Learn pencil drawing techniques and ideas to improve your drawing skills…
The graphite pencil is our basic drawing tool, so it’s well worth learning how to draw well with pencil.
Whether you prefer to just draw with pencil for sketches and rough outlines, or if you love to create your finished artwork completely in pencil, there are different pencil drawing techniques that can help you.
Choose Your Pencil
First, make sure that you’ve got the right pencil for the job!
Pencils come in a wide selection of grades, ranging from very hard (9H) to very soft (9B).
There is more about understanding pencil grades in this blog post about choosing your drawing materials and in my ‘Get Ready for Drawing’ PDF here… (same info different formats)
Pencils H, HB, and B sit right in the middle of the scale.
They are reasonably good for anything from writing, drawing outlines and light shading.
The harder pencils:
Don’t press too hard with them, else you’ll scour your page surface.
The softer pencils:
They’re best for softer, sketchier drawings with lots of shading.
When we first start to learn pencil drawing techniques, we tend to pick up one pencil and draw our whole drawing through with that same pencil.
Actually, it’s far more effective and you get a more attractive and interesting drawing if you get used to using a range of different pencils within the one drawing.
If you want to roughly sketch in outlines before you start your drawing ‘proper’, it’s a good idea to use a really light, hard pencil, such as H or 2H.
Press really lightly, though, so that you don’t press into the surface of your paper and mark it. It should be easy to erase if you press very softly, too.
The main outlines of your drawing could be done in a softer pencil, such as a B or 2B. This should have a nice soft feel to it, physically, as the pencil runs across the surface of the paper - to make your drawing feel pleasant to do.
And it will give you a good strong outline for your drawing that you can work further with.
Also look out for special ‘sketching’ pencils which tend to have a softer consistency than the usual drawing or ‘graphic’ pencils. They feel softer to use and move nicely over your paper. Try Derwent Sketching Pencils for this.
Keep your pencil nicely sharpened for nice sharp lines and even shading – and particularly to avoid scratching your paper with the wooden casing of the pencil as the nib blunts.
Pencil Drawing Techniques
Once you’ve got the outlines in place, this is when your selection of pencil and your pencil drawing techniques are most important.
How you hold your pencil is important:
If you drew everything with the same pencil, it’s likely that the whole drawing would appear in the same (or very, very similar) tones of grey.
This can be a bit flat and bland to look at and doesn’t make for an interesting or dynamic drawing.
One way we can get around this is by choosing our mark-making techniques very carefully so that the marks we make with our pencil are close together (for darker areas) or further apart (for lighter areas).
This is a similar technique to how artists draw with pens, so it’s definitely possible to get a nice range of tones (lights and darks) within the one drawing using a pencil in this same way.
But one of the big advantages of choosing to draw with a pencil (rather than a pen) is that you get to play with shading techniques.
While using the point of any pencil will give you a firm, fine line, by using the pencil more on its side, you can make nice shaded areas for your drawing.
Looking at light and dark in your drawing, and creating light and dark areas with your shading, is really important for an interesting and accurate drawing. You can find out more about that in my 'Start Drawing' free PDF here and in my longer Essential Drawing Skills self-study course…
You can experiment with how you shade, as well, using the pencil in a more upright position and creating neat, smooth shading with small strokes, close together, all in the same direction…
Or looser shading with the pencil almost flat (horizontal) and larger strokes for looser, expressive, and atmospheric drawing styles.
You can even take your pencil drawing techniques further and smudge and smooth your shading with your finger, a cotton-wool ball, or a special blending stump to get softer, smokier effects for your drawing.
The darker (softer) B-grade pencils are best suited for this pencil drawing technique as they smudge and smear more easily…
Be warned when you’re drawing using soft B-grade pencils – and use a piece of scrap paper or paper towel to protect your drawing from the smudging of your hand on the page.
The drawing above is to show you the really soft, textured shading you can get when using the softer b-pencils (4b-9b). This is smudged using the blending stumps you can see in the picture - just rub over your pencil drawing with the point of the stump, quite hard. You can also use the tips of the pencil to get dark hard outlines (…best drawn in after you smudge!)
If you like the softer, smudgier techniques, you can experiment with graphite sticks and blocks, and graphite powder. Graphite is the same substance that is in the lead of pencils (not lead at all these days).
You can make your own graphite powder by (carefully) taking a knife to a graphite block and scraping gently away to create a powder.
This can be sprinkled and/or smeared and smudged onto your paper with a finger or cotton wall ball.
Special and Unusual Pencil Drawing Techniques
Perhaps one of the most exciting pencil drawing techniques is to use water.
Water can be used as:
Try Derwent’s Sketching Pencils if you like the look of this effect
Derwent’s Onyx pencils are the blackest pencil tone (even darker than the darkest B-grade pencil, 9B) so are great for really dark shaded areas. They also have a fine drawing point so are brilliant for fine/dark detailed line drawings too – in a way that the softer 8/9B pencils aren’t.
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