Learn to get more from your pencils

Pencils offer a variety of styles and here Terese Nielsen explains the basic tools and approaches to enable you to experiment in graphite.

 The Gathering


Terese Nielsen
Terese Nielsen
Terese graduated from Art Center College of Design, US, and has freelanced for over 20 years, illustrating for comic books, Lucas Entertainment, book covers and gaming art. 

Whether doing quick sketches and layouts, or highly realistic pencil renderings, graphite is wonderful in that 
it can produce a variety of looks.

When first becoming acquainted with pencils, purchase one of each grade from 9H-9B to become familiar with the hard/light and soft/dark qualities of each. Experiment with various surfaces, and a wide variety of strokes and mark-making.

After gaining an understanding of the abilities and limitations of each pencil, investigate further with blending tools and erasers for creating different effects.

Attempting blending tools too early can look smudgy and amateurish. Keep your pencils sharp and if trying to render in a realistic way avoid outlining shapes. Focus on the juxtaposition of values.

1: Which pencils should I use?

Pencils are graded on a scale from H (hardness) to B (blackness). Generally 
a 2-4H pencil is as hard as one needs for light areas, an H-B is for midrange, and 
a 5B-6B is for dark/very dark areas.

Rather than switching pencils for each tone, experiment with altering the pressure and achieve different values. Furthermore, different brands vary, so experiment to see what suits your temperament.

Drawing skills pencils

2: Paper produces many textures

As much as pencil choice requires careful consideration, the paper you choose is just as significant. If attempting to create a highly realistic style, for example, use 
a smooth, hot press/plate finish surface.  

I prefer Arches 140 lb hot press watercolour paper or Bristol board plate finish. You can see just some of the varieties of textures that are possible with various paper surfaces.

drawing skills paper texture

3: Lines and tools for blending

There are a multitude of strokes that can be employed to indicate textures of various objects. The lines utilised affect the mood and rhythm within a piece.

If attempting a highly realistic style then use very small circular strokes with your pencil, otherwise unwanted banding of pencil marks occurs. Try shading with a variety of tools from blending stumps to paper tissue for better finishes.

drawing skills blending

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