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The Humble Pencil: The Most Versatile Tool in an Artists' Tool Box

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Some things should be mandatory in everyone's, but especially artists arsenal of tools. I lift up to you the humble pencil. It's old, versatile, and I think it will never go out of style. No stylus or computer program attached to a tablet will beat the status quo standard, the tried and true humble pencil.

Looking for a new drawing tablet? Try this. Click on the link below.

Artists use pencils for so much more than drawing; they are used to find proportions and telling our story to future generations. Reams of paper, pigment and binders have made our worlds current culture vibrate. It's no wonder so many uses this simple art form. But some things artists do to their pencils and how they hold them as they draw to tell those stories can be shaking and contrary to what most of us learn in grade school. However, we all can learn a lot from these simple tricks to make our drawings more vivid and live more fully within the canvass.

Below are a short ream of videos sharing some of the humble secrets of the pencil.

Are you ready for this? Lets begin!

Pencils have different grades of value. The pencil's richness depends on how much binder to graphite pigment ratio is in that pencil. The more binder, the lighter the value of the pencil. Pencils that have lighter values are called "H" or "Hard" Pencils and are "Hardly noticeable".

Always be careful using H pencils as you can press down too hard and scratch up the page's surface. It's always easier to up a pencil size and save your paper than restarting a drawing because you scored your page.

Note: Scoring a page intentionally can change not only the texture of your drawing, but it can also cause havoc when shading areas as those score lines draw pigment like magnets to a frigidaire.

But Pencils that have more graphite pigment to binder ratios are called "B" pencils. I always recommend never pressing too hard with B pencils as they can push too much orpiment on to the surface, and marks made by a B pencil are not easily erased. With B pencils, always "Be Soft" when pressing the implement on to the page.

As you can see by the graphic, the higher the pencil's number, the more soft or hard the pencils are. Mide range pencils are the lower numbered pencils.

The typical pencil you get in a store or at school is a number 2B Pencil as it's dark, but most lead mechanical pencils are HB. You can get 2B or, really most led based graphite pencils softness, but you will have to find an upper-class stationary store or an art store to find them.

If you want to find coloured pencils hardness levels, they are on the box, and it is also most common to see them in 2H-2B in softness. You can find deeper hardness and softness levels, but you'll have to do some hunting.

Interested in Woodless pencils? Check these out.

Some of the above brands are spend-y, especially the last coloured pencil kit, but the pigments are softer, closer to mid B Pencils, so that means its takes more pigment to make them. I feel they are worth the cost if you choose to go the full woodless way.

Looking for great sketch books? Try these, the pages are 80lb paper, the leather cover is well made. They come with a book marker, manila pages and a stretchy band to keep them shut and your projects in place.

They are probably my go to sketchbooks. Ryman sketch books also come in "A" sizes 6-3 which is handy for all sized works and projects.

To the right is my current drawing I am working on in class. I love how the work seems to have a Lucian Freud’s feel.

Click on my drawing and see if you agree.

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