A Guide To Understanding Artist Pencils

By Dania Jalees in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

Pencils are just one of the many mediums in which artists communicate. They are also the most basic of mediums. They are easy to control and use and usually set the foundation for your artwork—remember outlines? Mastering the pencil is to art as the mastering of the Pen/Path Tool is to graphic designers.

But there are some things about the pencil you need to know. Here’s my guide to you get started:

1. Components:

Pencils can be made out of anything really. What we call “lead” is actually a stick of graphite inside the wooden barrel. It could be water-soluble also which allows the graphite on the paper to act like paint when you overlay it with water from the paintbrush. It doesn’t always have to be a graphite stick, it could also be charcoal, etc. But regardless, they all have what are called Grades.

2. Grading:

Pencils are put into the B or H class, depending on whether they are soft/dark and rough/light. They are usually preceded by a number or a letter like 5H, 7B, or HB. No prefix implies 1, like B.

B means soft. Pencils in this category have thicker graphite or charcoal sticks that allow for more graphite to be released onto the drawing surface. This is why they feel soft and are also darker. A lot of people use 2B for outlining. 3B to 5B is the mid-range that gives you average dark tones. For darker tones go for the 6B and above range.

H means hard. The graphite tip is usually a lot rougher and does not allow too much onto the paper. It allows control while shading in lighter tones.

3. The HB Pencil:

Commonly available, the HB is a pencil that can’t make up it’s mind. It doesn’t know whether it is soft or hard, light or dark. It’s a middle-grade that is a bit of both B and H, making it suitable for everyone’s writing needs. People do use HBs for outlining though. It’s a matter of personal preference that develops as you begin to understand the pencil.

4. Hand stance:

Holding the pencil is also crucial to the drawing. There is a way to get dark shades from H pencils and light shades from B pencils; It’s all in your hands! Increasing the angle between the pencil point and the paper while decreasing the pressure from your hand should help you make lighter shades, while doing the opposite will give you darker ones.

5. Color:

No, don’t look at your color pencils! I’m still talking about black and white drawings.

The tone (or value) of the color is something often overlooked. For example, a citrus green would appear to be a sort of light grey while a bright red would show up as a medium grey.

Most colors are not the same tone, and even the same color in two different kinds of lighting would be a different tone. So be aware of the tone of a color, and create the right “color” by adjusting the value.

6. Preferences:

What, when, and how much you like to use a pencil is a part of your own style. How dark you make your drawings is another thing aspect of developing your style, it depends on the amount of pressure applied.

Although copying is a helpful way of learning, you don’t always have to mimic someone else’s way of doing things! Just follow your hand, let it flow, and enjoy what you’re doing.

If you found this helpful, you can get more of Dania’s tips on her DeviantArt page.


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