The core of a pencil is made up of a non-toxic mineral called graphite. The common name “pencil lead” is due to a historic association with the stylus made of lead in ancient Roman times.
The Solid graphite pencil, also known as woodless pencils, are often used for art and drawing. While a standard pencil is a thin core of graphite (well, graphite mixed with clay, generally) inside a wooden body, a solid graphite pencil does away with the wood.
Why would it be good to lack wood? If you're shading large areas, it can be useful to have a much wider stick of graphite, without the surrounding wood getting in the way. You can shade much more at once, which can help with getting a more even result as well as being faster and easier.
But won't your hands get dirty with all that graphite unprotected? Not usually, as these pencils normally have a layer of lacquer or paper to protect your hands. And sometimes you just have to risk dirty hands in the name of your art.
In most creative fields, it’s impossible to get away from one important tool—a 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.
And while we know 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.
Figuring out the best graphite pencil 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 graphite 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.
How to Select the Best Drawing Graphite Pencil
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.
Which Drawing Graphite Pencil Should You Use?
The pencils that are best for you to use will vary depending on several factors. These factors include:
The amount of pressure that you naturally place on the pencil.
The texture of the paper.
The approach that you take for developing the drawing.
The surface of the paper also plays a role in the pencils that you choose. Papers with a lighter tooth (smoother surface) may be more receptive to harder pencils and show less of the texture when softer pencils are applied. Papers with heavier textures may be more receptive to softer pencils but reveal more of the surface texture as they are applied.
Working with Graphite Pencil
Graphite has always been the go-to medium for artists. It was the first when they started learning basic drawing techniques. Because it was the easiest medium to master. It’s also the most portable and clean medium, so it was convenient.
Mechanical pencils are great for fine lines and details, and you never have to sharpen them. While a mechanical pencil is my pencil of choice, the lead is the most important part. 2B is a soft lead that offers a smooth blend. You can also use 4B or 6B with similar results.
Blending Tortillions and Stumps
Both are used for blending the graphite pencil. Tortillions are spiralwound pieces of paper that are good for small areas. Stumps are paper pressed and formed into the shape of a pencil. They are pointed on both ends and work well for blending large areas.
These erasers resemble mechanical pencils with a click mechanism for advancing them. The erasers in these are made of vinyl, and they erase pencil marks cleanly. The small point of the vinyl eraser can remove precise lines and details within your drawing. They come in a variety of sizes from large tips to micro.
Workable Spray Fixative
This is a spray used to seal your work and to prevent it from smudging when you are finished. Workable means you can spray down an area and continue to draw on top of it. However, I don’t recommend it for the techniques I share in my book. It will change the smoothness of the paper and interrupt your blending.
Back in the 80s when I first started teaching my Lee Hammond Blended Pencil Technique, graphite drawing had a looser, more impressionistic approach. Smooth blending was rarely seen. Over the years, this smooth and realistic approach has been embraced by thousands of people and become one of the most popular styles of drawing.
To create this look, blend your graphite until it appears smooth. It is not as easy as it looks, but with practice you can master this technique.
The following examples show what your blending should and should not look like. The smoothness of your blend will depend on how smoothly you apply the pencil.
It’s important to place your pencil lines down slowly and evenly at the very beginning. If your pencil lines are put down in a fast, scribble-like application, no amount of blending will make them look smooth.
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