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Beginner’s Guide To Graphite Drawing Pencils

Beginner’s Guide To Graphite Drawing Pencils Beginner’s Guide To Graphite Drawing Pencils

Though pricier, the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Pencils also come in sets of different grades of hardness and have superior black, break-resistant leads.

You can actually push very dark graphite farther into the paper by trying to erase it with a vinyl eraser too quickly and with a lot of pressure. If that happens, it’s impossible to completely remove the graphite. To avoid it, always lift as much graphite as possible with a kneaded eraser first.

Comparative measurement involves seeing the ratios between the objects and using the negative space as a measuring device. For instance, an apple might be two times smaller than a vase placed next to it; a child could be three times shorter than an adult. In other words, you relate one object to the next by placing invisible comparative lines to demonstrate the relationships.

I use this type of eraser most of all and I use it for so many things that I don’t know where to start, so I’ll mention the one thing they’re are not good for.

In order to achieve realistic textures such as fur, skin or fabrics, you’ll need pencils that blend well and are flexible enough to reach the darkest of tones in order to convey a realistic sense of depth. A set of soft pencils will fit the job perfectly. If you don’t want to buy a full set, you can get a few individual pencils. When it comes to portraiture, my most frequently used pencils are HB, 4B, 6B and 8B.

The images on this page were kindly provided by Dick Blick. 

If you’re just getting started with pencil drawing, you probably don’t want to be drawing on expensive paper from the get-go. It’s a good idea to invest in two types of paper: sketch paper, which is cheap and ideal for testing out ideas and refining pencil techniques; and higher-quality archival drawing paper, which is thicker and has a gentle “tooth” ideal for graphite, for when you’re ready to work on a final piece. 

Harder pencils are sharp and can be used for details. They’re easier to erase but more difficult to blend. You can use them for very light shading, but it would be difficult to shade a large area with a hard pencil.

Beyond pencils, make sure you have these supplies handyEraser

Fortunately, pencils aren’t too expensive and they last for quite a while. I suggest that you buy a range of grades (4B, 2B, HB, 2H, 4H) of the same brand. If you do come across one that’s “grainy,” sharpen past that spot to see if the rest of the pencil’s lead is usable. If not, throw it away.

Graphite drawings can easily get messy, so it’s always a good idea to use something, like a sheet of paper under your hand, to avoid smudging your drawing. You can also try to work from left to right if you are right-handed or right to left if you are left-handed to minimize the risk of having your hand going over an already drawn area.

Here’s how each pencil below helps me get the job done faster and more efficiently:

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Each pencil has its benefits and can help you get the job done faster! I could use a monkey wrench to drive 1000 nails into my patio deck, but it wasn’t designed for that job. A hammer is so much more efficient!

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I’ve experimented with many different styles of brushes for working with graphite, and I think that stiffer bristles work best. Stiff bristles “push” the graphite and blend it better than soft bristles do.

Pencils that I’ve used and recommend are Derwent Graphic and Daler Rowney Graphic (not sketch).

Kneaded Eraser – A very soft eraser that you can form into shapes with your fingers. You can roll this eraser into a point, pinch it into a wedge, roll it into a ball, or make it into any shape you need.

Get yourself a good pencil sharpener. A great choice for beginners is a manual pencil sharpener with two openings. Each cavity is suitable for sharpening the pencil to a different type of tip; this means that every pencil can be sharpened to multiple points, making one more versatile.

If you keep the tip clean, you can use these tools to lighten areas of graphite by gently dabbing and rolling. Keep the tip clean by rubbing it across your kneaded eraser.

Stump – A double pointed paper stick made of paper pulp that come in many sizes. Gently rub them across hatching to blend graphite.

If you’re into drawing buildings, cars or technical sketches, a set of hard pencils will suit you well. Hard pencils don’t smudge easily, so your drawings will always be sharp and clean. You won’t need to sharpen your pencils too often because the graphite is hard enough to hold a sharp tip longer than any B graded pencil.

To make the soft shading shown in #3, you would move your pencil in a circular motion. By moving it back and forth with a light touch, you create a slightly different texture.

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HB: This pencil helps me shade the lightest areas of my portrait such as eyeballs and highlights without having to spend too much time focusing on the amount of pressure I’m putting on the paper and worrying if I’m shading to dark.

The softest grade of pencil is a 9b and the hardest is a 9h. The most common pencil ‘writing’ pencil is usually an HB (in the middle of the scale.)

Each pencil is capable of covering a wide range of values. If you look at the first image, there are some gradients under each square. This shows you how flexible each grade of pencil is. Even though 9B is the softest pencil, you can still use it to draw an entire portrait with values ranging from medium grey to black. Although, it would be a big challenge since it would require a lot of effort to keep from shading your drawing too dark.

By Sara Barnes, Veronica Winters, Jessie Oleson Moore and Sandrine Pelissier on May 27, 2018

While pencils don’t make the artist, being armed with the best equipment sets you up for drawing success. 

The blending of graphite works best with a paper stump or a small piece of sketch paper. Don’t rub the surface, however, because it ends up looking smudged. Strive for a nice and even application of pigment, which requires just a bit of blending. Blending tends to make all tones (values) look as the middle tone. Thus, it’s important to re-establish the darkest areas and to work on the highlights afterward.

The graphite that’s used in “normal” pencils is the same graphite used in artist quality pencils. The only difference is the type and quantity of filler that’s mixed with the graphite to create different degrees of hardness.

Battery Powered Eraser – A small nib eraser fits in the end of the eraser and spins when you press a button. You can spin the tip of the nib on an emery board and sharpen it down to an extremely fine point.

You can also use brushes to ‘paint’ with powdered graphite. You can create watercolor-like washes, clouds, and other smooth or foggy textures. Here’s my How To Work With Powdered Graphite tutorial.

Produce unique textures by placing the paper over an object and rubbing your pencil back and forth. 

Soft pencils are great for shading the darks and the middle tones. The most common medium soft graphite pencils are 2B pencils, which are usually used for general outlines and sketching.

The pointed end gets a little fuzzy as you use it and that helps the blending process. You can also use an emery board to sharpen the point or make it any shape you want.

I don’t know if the Color Shaper firm tip is made from a different type of silicone than the sculpture sets, but I can tell you that I have tried both and they seem about the same to me.

These tools come in different sizes, from gigantic to tiny, and you can blend graphite with them, if you’re careful. You can, of course, be more delicate with a smaller tool, but since the points of some of the tools come down to a long taper, you can use the tools that come in the larger size sculpture sets too.

If you’re new to drawing with graphite and wondering what are the best drawing pencils you should be using, this guide is for you!

9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B

If you feel really strained after you finish a drawing, you might need to add a few more pencil grades to your toolbox, or learn how to use them more efficiently.

Graphite pencils come in various degrees of hardness, from 9H (the hardest) to 9B (the softest).  H stands for hardness and B for blackness, so a 9H pencil will be very hard and light, and a 9B pencil will be very soft and black.

6B: Without any effort at all, I can easily shade large areas of a portrait or background with a smooth dark layer of graphite.

To block in the subject, make a simplified division between the light and the dark parts of a composition. Observe the light, how it travels across the form and where it turns to shadow. Sketch in the shadows first, as you can see in the sketch above on the left.

The negative space helps to find distances between the shapes. In the photo below, the negative space is the background around the cat, which helps you find the distances between the cat’s ears or toes.

Crosshatching is simply two directions of hatching layered atop one another. The more strokes you layer, the finer and darker the area is going to be.

Specialty brushes – You can find round brushes with short thick bristles made specifically for blending pastels, and some of them work for blending graphite too.

The number beside each letter represents the level of hardness or softness. So a 9B pencil is softer/darker than a 2B, while an 8H will be harder/lighter than a 3H.

The Holbein Horse Hair 1/4″ Round ” Blender with the black bristles in this image is the one I own and recommend. It applies the graphite onto the paper quite well, however this is a pricey little brush.

A Beginner’s Guide To Graphite Drawing Pencils, Erasers and Blenders

Tortillon – A pointed blender shaped like a stump but made of rolled paper. Because they are made of rolled paper, they have a harder surface and don’t blend graphite as well as stumps do.

Some artists produce energetic, rough lines, while others make deliberate, careful contours. The quality of the line determines how interesting your subject looks.

What the numbers and letters on a pencil mean Which pencils you should use Which pencils are best for drawing portraits and pencils for sketching The reason why there are so many pencil grades How the quality of a pencil can affect your artwork

Color Shaper or Sculpture Wipe Out Tool – I have more information about these tools under Blenders below.

A gum eraser removes less pigment than a kneaded eraser, so you can produce depth.

The grid method is often used to enlarge the drawing for a mural painting or a large artwork. This old method involves dividing the drawing into equal squares. Then, you compare and transfer abstracted shapes from the squares to the enlarged surface. This technique helps to see the comparative relationships between the objects.

Kneaded erasers are not good for completely erasing an area. In areas where I need to erase completely (that have a lot of dark graphite applied to them) I use a kneaded eraser first to lift as much graphite as possible. Then I use a stiffer eraser to finish erasing completely.

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Hatching is simply drawing parallel lines to fill a space with value. This is one of the most common forms of shading and mark making. 

To get more control over the cloth, fold it and use the point of a corner to lightly dab or stroke an area until it lightens.

A kneaded eraser very effectively removes graphite from the page, allowing you to define highlights in your work.

Use a sharp tool to make small indentations in your paper; when you draw over the area, the graphite will not reach the indented areas. This is a great method to make whiskers, blades of grass or to draw any other super fine lines.

Brushes – A small (1/8″ – 1/4″) straight or angled brush works well for delicate blending. They can be made even more useful by trimming the bristles back to about an eight of an inch long. This makes the bristles stiffer and easier to control. A larger flat brush, of course, works equally well for blending larger areas.

Graphite pencils are typically mixed with varying amounts of clay. Which means that a low quality pencil could contain many sand-like bits that feel scratchy and can damage your artwork.

You can use these erasers to “draw” into graphite hatching to create interesting effects and fine details.

This technique is a very time-consuming type of shading, but it’s sometimes necessary to describe a specific texture. Some artists have the patience to do a complete drawing using the dots only. The more dots you place, the darker the value is — the fewer dots create a lighter value. By varying the strength, size, and number of dots, you can make a range of values in a picture.

I currently use Caran d’ache Grafwood Pencils for my ‘fine’ art drawing and Derwent Graphic pencils for sketching.

This involves is applying the pigment using the side of a pencil tip. Such soft shading is necessary around the highlights for a realistic appearance.

Try to get a wide array of tones on your drawing ranging from very light to very dark. A true black is difficult to obtain with graphite because when the paper is saturated with graphite, it will glare. You can use charcoal in your pencil drawings to obtain a real black.

Invest in an eraser. Even if your pencil has an eraser on the end, it will be worn down in no time. A soft gum eraser or a “big pink” eraser (like a pencil eraser but larger) are both good choices, and typically retail for $1 or less.

You can find brushes that are made for stenciling and decorative painting that are the same style as the Holbein, but are much less expensive. And they work with graphite just as well.

Color Shaper or Sculpting Wipe Out Tool – You can buy these tools either as the very expensive ‘Colour Shaper tm,’ or as the much less expensive sculpture ‘wipe out’ tool. You can buy an entire sculpture set for the price of one Color Shaper ‘firm’ tip. (The CS soft tip is too soft for graphite blending.)

Chamois Cloth – A very thin and soft suede-like piece of leather. You can use this to blend large areas of graphite. You can also use it to lift graphite out of an area of that has become too dark.

Stick Eraser – These erasers are made of a vinyl type of material. They usually come in a plastic holder and you can expose more eraser by clicking the top of the holder. This type of eraser can be cut into different shapes very easily. A wedge shape can be used to erase thin lines if you draw it across the paper using the long edge of the wedge shape. A pointed shape can be used to create delicate detail and erase tiny highlights.

If you want to add dark shading to your drawing, pick up a few soft pencils so you can make your drawings pop out of the page.

Apply a masking fluid to your paper before drawing; the masking fluid will essentially block your graphite from reaching the paper. Then you can remove the masking fluid to reveal clean paper around your shading

Every drawing begins with a sketch. There are three main methods for getting the sketch just right which all involve extrapolating the information in front of you and using only what’s necessary, to relate objects to one another, understand the linear perspective and develop accurate forms.

In the sight method, you’ll set up your drawing pad right next to the subject itself, so you can transfer the object to the paper at an accurate size by measuring your object with a pencil.

Drawing with pencil is an accessible method of creating artwork at any skill level. It requires minimal materials, and even beginners have a strong grasp of how to use this medium.

Here’s a list of pencil grades in order from lightest to darkest or hardest to softest.

For this approach, you’re only creating texture in a particular area. The type of paper you select (rough, with a bit of a tooth) is important. 

Artist’s pencils vary in quality. Some companies don’t do a very good job at mixing in the filler and this leaves hard grains of the stuff mixed in with the softer graphite. It’s possible to actually tear the surface of the paper with one of these poorly made pencils.

Even if you just washed your hands, there is always a tiny residue of oil on your skin that might go onto the paper and make the graphite more difficult to remove. For that reason, you might want to avoid blending with your finger. Experiment with different materials — tissue paper or cotton swabs works well for that purpose as well as stumps. Don’t throw away your stumps when they are dirty, as they can be used to apply a light layer of graphite.

The Tombow Mono Zero Eraser has a very small eraser diameter that’s useful for tight areas. It’s stiff but won’t damage the paper.

These come in handy when you draw uneven surfaces, like a leafy bush or a tree.

For a pencil that can create both broad strokes and precise lines, go with Cretacolor’s Monolith woodless pencil (included in this Cretacolor Silver Box Graphite Drawing Set). These pencils have a protective lacquer coating, are easy to sharpen and range in hardness from HB (medium) to 9B (extra soft).

You can use a clean stump to “lift” graphite in a very subtle way by tapping the clean tip lightly against the hatching. As the stump gets dirty, swirl the tip in a kneaded eraser to clean it.

Don’t be intimidated by the number of pencils I listed up there! Most likely, you’ll only need to use 3-5 of them. The pencils you need will depend on the type of drawings you do.

Steps for creating a simple pencil drawingOnce you’ve practiced the various techniques and mark-making, you can implement them into a single drawing. 1. Sketch your subject

Hard pencils produce light lines while soft pencils produce dark lines. Why? Because soft pencils deposit more graphite onto your drawing surface. The softer the pencil, the smoother the graphite.

If you can’t test a pencil before buying it and you want to be sure it won’t be scratchy, check to see that the packaging says it’s mixed with high quality, pure or smooth clay. Keep in mind that no matter how high the quality, you’re not going to get a 100% pure pencil.

The letters on a pencil will tell you its level of hardness or softness. For example:

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