Staedtler Lumograph best pencils for drawing
Sketch pencil painting in flowers drawing
Drawing Pencil Art Pencil Sketch

Drawing Pencil Art Pencil Sketch Drawing Pencil Art Pencil Sketch

And while we’ve gone over how to select the best colored pencils, there are a whole other set of considerations when thinking about the right graphite pencil to add to your collection. In fact, you’ll probably—like most artists—wind up using several different pencils depending on the effect you’re looking for.

To show different textures within your sketch, you need to adjust your technique. “You wouldn’t want to shade skin the same way you shade metallics or fur. They each have unique properties and capturing that will elevate your drawings because of the accuracy depicted,” says Von Rueden. 

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Less can be more! The 70/30 rule helps you create effective compositions. The idea is that 30 per cent of your sketch is filled with the main focus and detail, and the remaining 70 per cent is filler. This less interesting area helps direct attention towards the main subject of your artwork. You can see the rule in action in Von Rueden’s sketch above.

“I like symmetrical drawings, but they often look boring all too quickly,” says Croes. “A good way to prevent this is to add some subtle changes and only keep the general lines symmetrical instead of mirroring every small part. Keeping some elements asymmetrical helps to avoid boring repetition.”

A good starting point is to consider if the texture is rough or smooth, and then if it absorb or reflects light. “A reflecting and smooth texture, such as chrome, usually has higher contrasts and prominent highlights, while an absorbing and rough texture like cotton has low contrasts and little to no highlight present,” he continues.

Next page: Advanced sketching tips to take your drawings to a new level

Keep your main focal point within around 30 per cent of the image

“There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to make a clean-looking drawing that loses its brilliance and value thanks to smudging. Instead, use smudging to your advantage every now and then to smooth out shading. You can do this with several tools. I use a simple piece of tissue paper to get the job done.”

In most creative fields, it’s impossible to get away from one important tool—the pencil. It doesn’t matter if you’re an architect, a professional fine artist, or you’re just learning to draw; a good graphite pencil is an essential part of any artist’s supplies.

For more advice, read our article on how to hold a pencil correctly. 

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There are plenty of sketching techniques to help you achieve different styles and effects. Above are some examples demonstrating different ways to create form and depth. “It’s important to experiment and find what works best for you, to not only complement but enhance your style,” explains Von Rueden. “While I prefer smoother value transitions with the pencil strokes blending in against a thin outline, you may be more partial to cross-hatching against a bold outline.”

Japanese manufacturer Tombow is known for their high-density pencils, meaning they sharpen easily and the point stays longer. The Mono pencil is known to run a bit dark and is virtually smudge-proof. The dark lines of the Tombow Mono can almost mimic inks, making it a favorite of artists who focus on linework and tracing.

For a good value, you can’t beat Lyra Art Design Pencils. The graphite is rigid enough that it works for technical drawing, and with 17 different grades available, there’s no shortage of shading you can accomplish. One reviewer writes, “The finest pencils for drawing. High-quality graphite that is smooth and easy to blend. A wide variety of hardness for all your artwork needs.”

When you’re learning how to draw, it’s also worth considering using mechanical pencils alongside traditional ones. “Mechanical pencils are usually better suited for precision, while traditional pencils are great for laying down large areas of texture,” says Von Rueden. “Keep in mind that most mechanical pencils come with HB pre-inserted, which gives you only the middle range to work with.”

“When shading, use an extra piece of paper underneath your hand,” advises artist Brun Croes. “This will minimise the amount your hand smudges your pencil lines. If you’re right-handed, start shading from left to right; if you’re left-handed, start at the right and move to the left.

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Don’t be scared by the price. Caran D’ache is for serious sketchers looking to up their drawing game. As Switzerland’s only pencil maker, the brand has carried out exacting studies to get things just right, making them the favorite of many artists. This gift set will get you 15 graphic pencils, 3 water-soluble graphite pencils, plus accessories. Some say they are the best drawing pencils on the market, and that once you try them, you’ll never go back.

The Prismacolor Ebony Graphite pencil, which has a 2B grading, is a beautiful choice for rich, velvety lines. Easily blendable and soft, while they won’t create jet black lines—they get close for graphite. You’ll need to sharpen often due to their softness, and many swear by them for shading that is difficult to achieve without using charcoal.

To avoid your initial scribbles showing through, Lewis uses a particular art technique. “Use spare paper to doodle a big swatch of soft graphite or charcoal pencil, then use a large blending stick to pick up the soft dust to use for your image,” she explains. “Keep using the blending stick and adding more scribbles as you need more graphite.” You can then build up darker areas to create definition.

Create subtle shading by smudging large areas of soft charcoal

Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Art Set (set of 12)

In the United States, we commonly think of the number 2 pencil, which is standard for schools and test taking. The American number scale for pencils ranges 1 to 4 (including 2.5), but the rest of the world uses a different grading scale. Most manufacturers use the HB scale, where “H” stands for hardness and “B” for blackness. A standard number 2 pencil corresponds to HB on this scale.

When selecting the perfect graphite pencil, the first thing to take into consideration is your drawing style. Technical drawing and detailed artwork with fine lines will require different pencils than those used for shading and sketching figures. Do you use dark, thick lines in your sketches or prefer lighter, thinner strokes? Understanding your personal artistic style and needs will help you narrow down the selection when searching for a good drawing pencil.

Woodless pencils may cost a bit more, but they generally last longer than the typical wood-encased pencils. Cretacolor woodless pencils are perfect for shading and the graphite in them is water-soluble, allowing you to create soft washes over the page. Creatacolor’s kit also comes with a kneaded eraser and sharpener, giving you all the tools you need in one box.

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Use an extra piece of paper under your hand to avoid smudging your work

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Prismacolor’s graphite drawing set is a good introductory kit when starting to sketch. It comes with seven graphite drawing pencils of different grades, as well as four woodless graphite pencils. These create beautiful, broad strokes when used on their side, and allow you to experiment with a variety of tools. As an added bonus, the pencil set includes water-soluble graphite pencils, which transform into a wash when brushed with water. All told, the drawing kit is a great way to start sketching seriously.

Use varied lines, says illustrator Rovina Cai. “Not all lines are equal. Subtle shifts in the width and darkness of your lines will create a dynamic, visually interesting drawing. Controlling the kind of mark you put down can be tricky in the beginning, but with practice you will be able to create a variety of marks that work together to make a cohesive image. Experiment with different pencil grades (from 3H to 6B) and with holding the pencil at different angles.”

It is possible to create smooth, blended effects using pencils – for example, to capture a sky. “Sometimes it’s preferable for your shading to be less sketchy and more smooth and subtle,” says artist Marisa Lewis. “Pencil lines don’t blend perfectly unless you’re very careful.” 

Before you start, you need to pick the best pencils for the job. The hardness of the graphite is indicated on the side of the pencil: ‘B’ pencils are softer, ‘H’ are harder, and ‘HB’ sits in the middle – there’s a big difference between a 4H and a 4B. “I recommend starting somewhere on the H scale as a foundation and then finishing with the darker B scale,” says travelling convention artist Tim Von Rueden.

Keep in mind that most artists use more than one type of pencil. In fact, many manufacturers sell drawing pencil sets that come with a selection of graphite pencils in different grades. This will allow you to switch between tools depending on the requirements of a particular image.

Shifts in the width and darkness of your lines will create interest

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Once you know what type of artwork you need the pencil for, you need to understand the different grades of graphite pencils. Even though we often refer to lead in pencils, there is actually no component of lead used in them. Whereas colored pencils are made with wax and pigment, graphite pencils are a mixture of graphite and clay. The combination of these two components allows for smooth strokes, but graphite pencils will give different lines depending on how much clay is present. Generally, the more clay in the pencil, the harder the pencil—and lighter the stroke—will be.

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Consider if the material is rough or smooth, and if it absorbs or reflects light

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The HB scale ranges from 9H, a hard pencil that leaves fine, light marks, to 9B, a soft pencil which a high ratio of graphite that leaves bold, dark marks. While every manufacturer gives each pencil a designation on the scale, it’s all relative within a given brand, so remember that a 6H pencil from one manufacturer might give a slightly different stroke than a 6H pencil from another.

Once you understand the type of lines you can expect from your pencils, it’s easy to mix and match to put together a graphite pencil set that will cover your needs as an artist.

Keep a nice contrast going between a finished look and a more of a sketchy feel

Figuring out the best pencils to bring your sketches and designs to life can appear challenging, but much of it comes down to personal preference. Once you get the hang of which brand you prefer, you can mix and match different pencil grades in order to expand your sketching capabilities. You’ll see that much of what we suggest are pencil sets, which allows you to experiment with a wide variety of lines and shading, but each brand will also sell their pencils individually once you need to restock.

Von Rueden uses four different sketching techniques to define object edges: thin, hard, lost and undefined. A thin and hard edges give objects solid borders. Lost edges occur when the object and background values start to blend together, so the edge is implied rather than defined. Undefined edges need to be deciphered by the viewer themselves. He suggests exploring all four types, and combining them to create interest within your work.

“If you position your hand closer to the end of the pencil, you have more control and precision, but heavier strokes (darker markings),” says illustrator Sylwia Bomba. “Gripping further up the pencil will give you less control and precision, but lighter strokes (lighter markings).” 

Best Graphite Drawing PencilsDerwent Medium Graphic Drawing Pencils (set of 12)

Many artists swear by Staedtler’s range of drawing pencils. Their Mars Lumograph is known for its consistency and lack of breakage, making them great for detailed work. They also erase cleanly, meaning you won’t be left with stray smudges on the paper. Staedtler’s standard set provides 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H drawing pencils, making it extremely versatile. “I’ve been using Staedtler Lumograph professionally for over 30 years and in that time I’ve found no better,” says artist and art educator Mike Sibley. “I even give them away at my workshops.”

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Faber-Castell is a German brand known for high-quality art supplies, and the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch pencils are no exception. The brand makes sets with a variety of grades included or you can purchase single packs of pencils in each grade. Known for their consistency and durability, they sharpen easily and don’t often break. Plus, Faber-Castell’s handy tin makes the pencils highly portable. It’s no wonder they are an artist favorite, no matter the style or skill level.

Getting started with sketching can be more daunting than you might expect. In this article, seasoned artists give their top sketching tips to help you on your sketching journey. On this page you’ll find advice for getting started, or jump to page 2 for some tips on how to elevate your sketching skills. Here you’ll find tips on the technical skills you need to master, as well as techniques for getting inspired.

Available in different sets filled with a wide variety of grades, both beginners and professionals swear by Derwent. You can select between soft, medium, and hard sets depending on your subject matter and people note that the pencils are easy to sharpen to a point, as well as a flat shape. This allows for detailed work, as well as shading. And the hexagonal shape makes them easy to grip.

Best Drawing Pencils for Professionals and Beginners Who Love to Sketch

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