From the classic number 2 to the more specialized variants, pencils are a very popular and very strongly recommended tool for any artist. The number on a pencil is actually somewhat important; it refers to how hard the lead in the pencil is, and number 2 is the most common or “average” hardness. Professional artists often have a favorite hardness and/or have a range of different leads available, so experiment a little to see what you like best.
Pencils are commonly found just about anywhere, making them one of the easiest art supplies to find. But, as common as they are, you’re probably only going to see #2 pencils in stock unless you visit an arts and crafts store. Many places, notably schools, recommend or require #2 pencils and there isn’t much support for the other lead types outside of specialized uses, so there is a lot of push behind keeping that just the one type of pencil in stock.
Pencils are best used for the layout and sketching stages of drawing a picture, as their lines can be erased cleanly. With a little practice, you can also easily create a range of grays with a single pencil, making it practical to use them for grayscale pictures. Of course, possibly the biggest benefit of using these is that they are pretty much everywhere and are dirt cheap.
The biggest downside of using pencils is that scanners don’t see the marks very clearly; scanning a penciled drawing using a scanner’s monochrome mode will result in a lot of the marks simply being washed out. To combat this, you should scan using a “color” scanning mode and edit the picture using a program of your choice afterwards.
The other problem faced by pencils is that the point dulls as you use it. A sharp point leaves behind a clean line, but a dull one leaves a streak. Making things a little more difficult, sharpening too much or too often can leave the lead too fragile to be useful.
- Always hold the pencil the same way you would if you were writing something (ie, a soft angle).
- Only press the tip down gently. The lighter you press, the lighter the marks it leaves; by varying the pressure you can get different shades out of one pencil. Also, lighter marks are easier to erase and much less likely to result in the point breaking.
- Keep the tip sharp by using a pencil sharpener regularly and rotating the pencil in your hand every so often. A sharp tip makes for better, cleaner lines. Rotating the pencil changes where the lead touches the paper, making it take longer to go dull.
- Use short, brisk movements instead of dragging the tip to draw when using a pencil. This is more natural to the way our hands work and it’s also much easier to keep things going where you want them if you draw them in increments.