Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil
If you’ve invested in quality pencils please take care of them if you want them to perform their best when drawing and sketching.
Here are my top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil, and how to care for them.
Never drop your pencils.
The graphite in the pencils can be soft and shatters easily inside the wood. Store them carefully so they don’t rattle around.
The next tip shows you what I think a good pencil point should look like. I like the variety of line it gives you…
Sharpening your pencils
- Sharpen with a craft knife or scalpel. Pencil sharpeners can twist the soft graphite inside the pencil and cause it to break. If you have to use a pencil sharpener make sure its sharp by purchasing a quality pencil sharpener.
- For general drawing and sketching I prefer to create an uneven point when sharpening my pencils. This gives you the opportunity to create a variety of line quality that can’t be achieved by the perfect point.
- Use fine sandpaper or an emery board to maintain a fine point to your pencils, if this is needed for your style of drawing.
Use a propelling pencil
If you require a smooth fine and even line quality to your drawings. I use both depending on what I want to achieve.
The dust created from using the sandpaper or emery board for sharpening is not for throwing away. Use it for smudging into you drawing to achieve wonderfully soft tonal areas without any hint of lines.
I often use a soft pencil (9B) to make a really dark, graphite filled area on a piece of scrap paper. I then use this as a ‘palette’ and pick up some residue graphite on my finger tip to then smudge and blend into my drawing. Great for creating very soft blended areas, devoid of lines. Purists would tell you to use special blending stumps or cotton buds so as not to transfer any oil from your finger tips to the paper.
Pencil graphite smudges and if used correctly can achieve stunning effects. What you don’t want is your drawing to get smudged unintentionally by the edge of your hand or cuff of your shirt. To prevent this from happening place a piece of scrap paper (about A4 size) under your hand to cover the drawing. As long as you make sure your hand moves as you draw while the paper stays still, you won’t smudge your drawing.
Paper and oil
The choice of paper is the subject of another post but what I want to say here is to point out how important it is not to let your hands and finger tips rest on the paper surface. Everyones fingers have oil and you don’t want to transfer this to the paper as it will either act as ‘resist’ stopping the graphite from adhering to the paper, or act as a binder making the graphite more difficult to rub out with an eraser.
Use a soft brush to wipe excess graphite or eraser bits from the paper. Don’t use the palm of your hand.
To stop your drawing from smudging while in storage or by admirers hands you can use a fixative to spray over the top. You can use expensive branded artists fixative or cheap ‘strong hold’ hair spray. If you’re drawing on brilliant white paper it’ll be best to use branded artists fixative. If drawing on toned or off-white paper hairspray will be fine as it’s tendency to slightly yellow over time will not affect your drawing. Apply in multiple thin layers rather than a single thick layer otherwise it may delete some of the line detail and tonal subtleties.
I generally don’t like to use fixative or hairspray. I prevent my drawings from smudging in storage by lightly taping a second clean piece of paper over my drawing. I use a few small pieces of masking tape to tack the 2 pieces of paper together to ensure they do not move or rub together. This will stop any smudging while in storage.
If you want to know what pencils to use for drawing and sketching read my companion post Best pencils for drawing and sketching.
Happy drawing. I hope these tips help you along your way. Remember most artists learn by trial and error to find what suits them best.
8 August 2021 @ 1:28 am
I loved to draw as a child. I remember drawing the pirate and parrot for a art institute. I have started again at 65 and find drawing has lifted my spirits for life again thanks.
8 August 2021 @ 9:22 am
Great to hear drawing has been such a rewarding activity for you. There is something very special about looking at the world and making a personal record of it. Best regards, Brian
25 April 2017 @ 10:17 am
Have really appreciated this information as I am starting a drawing course, this week, after many years. Also looked at your pencil post. I’m off to the Art Shop to get equipped…
25 April 2017 @ 6:23 pm
Great! Glad you found it useful and you feel inspired to return to drawing. Hope you have a fabulous time on your course. Regards, Brian
6 January 2015 @ 2:12 pm
THANK YOU! I’ll NEVER use a pencil sharpener again. I’ve snapped so many pencils in anger because the end kept breaking and blamed manufacturer and retailer for bad products or storage even to the point (!) of complaining to SAA. And I’d abandoned all hope of getting a decent charcoal pencil; I’d get to ‘almost sharp’ then – oh nooooo! Broke again! And again… And…
Simple advice (why did I not know this?) that would’ve saved so much money and frustration. Thanks again!
7 January 2015 @ 7:04 am
So glad you found this useful. There were times years ago at art school when I used to sharpen almost a whole 8B pencil to nothing trying to get a point!! Took me a while to figure out not to use a sharpener with the soft B-range pencils. Never used a sharpener since.
12 March 2019 @ 6:31 pm
Wow this is awesome and am greatful for your tips,advise and most especially the important points you made.