Drawing with pencil is an accessible method of creating artwork at any skill level. It requires minimal materials, and even beginners have a strong grasp of how to use this medium.
While pencils don’t make the artist, being armed with the best equipment sets you up for drawing success.
What do the Numbers on Pencils Mean?
Graphite pencils come in various degrees of hardness, from 9H (the hardest) to 9B (the softest). H stands for hardness and B for blackness, so a 9H pencil will be very hard and light, and a 9B pencil will be very soft and black.
Harder pencils are sharp and can be used for details. They’re easier to erase but more difficult to blend. You can use them for very light shading, but it would be difficult to shade a large area with a hard pencil.
Soft pencils are great for shading the darks and the middle tones. The most common medium soft graphite pencils are 2B pencils, which are usually used for general outlines and sketching.
Which Pencil should You Choose?
Though pricier, the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Pencils also come in sets of different grades of hardness and have superior black, break-resistant leads.
For a pencil that can create both broad strokes and precise lines, go with Cretacolor’s Monolith woodless pencil (included in this Cretacolor Silver Box Graphite Drawing Set). These pencils have a protective lacquer coating, are easy to sharpen and range in hardness from HB (medium) to 9B (extra soft).
Try to get a wide array of tones on your drawing ranging from very light to very dark. A true black is difficult to obtain with graphite because when the paper is saturated with graphite, it will glare. You can use charcoal in your pencil drawings to obtain a real black.
Beyond Pencils, Make Sure You have these Supplies Handy
Invest in an eraser. Even if your pencil has an eraser on the end, it will be worn down in no time. A soft gum eraser or a “big pink” eraser (like a pencil eraser but larger) are both good choices, and typically retail for $1 or less.
If you’re just getting started with pencil drawing, you probably don’t want to be drawing on expensive paper from the get-go. It’s a good idea to invest in two types of paper: sketch paper, which is cheap and ideal for testing out ideas and refining pencil techniques; and higher-quality archival drawing paper, which is thicker and has a gentle “tooth” ideal for graphite, for when you’re ready to work on a final piece.
Get yourself a good pencil sharpener. A great choice for beginners is a manual pencil sharpener with two openings. Each cavity is suitable for sharpening the pencil to a different type of tip; this means that every pencil can be sharpened to multiple points, making one more versatile.