Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil


Drawing and sketching pencils. Tones, shades and line quality

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

Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil
  • 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.

Soft tones

Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil

Graphite dust

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.

Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil

Finger smudging

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. 

Unwanted smudging

Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil

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.


Top tips for drawing and sketching with pencil

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.