Pencil Techniques for Better Drawings
A solid drawing can stand on its own or be the foundation for a great painting. Being able to render your subject accurately as well as add shading and highlights that give it a 3-dimensional look on a flat piece of paper or canvas is crucial to the work’s success. But don’t despair; there are plenty of methods that will help make your drawings look better from the start.
I’ve put together 16 of my favorite techniques I think will help you get a head start on making better drawings. I’ve used Arteza Professional Drawing Pencils and I recommend you do too since they offer several lead hardnesses. You’ll see that the lead’s hardness makes all the difference in creating fine, medium, or thick marks as well as for adding light and dark values.
Things to Know Before Starting
Differences in Pencils: H vs. B
Pencils come in hard and soft leads. The harder the lead, the lighter the mark it makes. Hard leads create light lines. Soft leads make darker ones. The hardness is denoted on each one with a number and a letter. Those with the letter H are hard leads. The higher the number the harder its lead, so it will make a very light line. Those with the letter B, for blackness, have softer leads. The higher the number the softer the lead, and the more graphite it will leave on the paper.
TIP: For more detailed works with a lot of tone transitions, use the softest pencils in the set, B and higher. Save harder ones for initial sketches you will erase later and for adding highlights to objects exposed to bright light.
What Is Hatching?
A basic art technique, it is the placement of lines near each other either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The closer they are, the denser and darker an area will become. When the lines intersect, you get what is known as cross-hatching. It is a very effective way to make dark sections even darker or to give the appearance of texture. I will be referring to both hatching and cross-hatching throughout.
1. Vertical Hatching
Hatch from top to bottom. You can hold your hand in the air or while resting it on the surface. In the first case, the marks will be quick and loose and will vary from the start to the end. In the second case, it’s easier to control the distance between hatches and the pressure applied to the lead, making it more smooth and even.
2. Horizontal Hatching
Follow the instructions for vertical hatching, only this time draw lines from side to side.
3. Inclined Hatching
Now, place the lines from one corner to the opposite corner in one direction.
Begin with either horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines. Next, add intersecting lines going in the opposite direction.
5. Radial Hatching
Start your marks at the center and work rows of short diagonal hatching out until you get to the edge of the page.
6. Expressive Hatching
The softest lead, such as 6B, is best for this technique. Use random and intermittent lines, changing the pressure applied to the lead and their direction throughout.
7. Contour Lines
These are smooth marks of varying distances apart made by applying even amounts of pressure to the lead.
For the maximum effect, use a soft lead. Adding plenty of pressure, apply a dark layer of graphite. Take a scrap piece of paper or a pre-rolled paper stump and rub the area until the marks are soft and well blended.
Make random open, closed, small, medium, and large loops. Practice changing the loops’ directions, the distance between them, the density of hatching, and the pressure applied to draw a line to see how many variations you can create.
Holding your pencil perpendicular to the paper, while applying pressure, will help you make these round marks. Using a hard lead will result in light, thin dots while using the softer leads will leave darker and thicker dots. Notice that the closer you place dots together, the darker the area looks.
11. Dotted Line
You can elongate dots to form rows of dashes. By varying the length, width and overall placement of dashes, these can be used to make interesting patterns.
12. Zigzag Lines
Without raising the pencil from the paper, start from one point and draw diagonally, getting longer and then shorter again until you have a square. You can use this technique to create the silhouette of many shapes by following its outline and changing the length of each line.
13. Interwoven Textures
Create the look of woven fabric by hatching in random directions all over the page. Vary the angles and shapes of your hatching to make it more visually interesting.
14. Basketweave Patterns
Alternate between vertical and horizontal hatching, drawing the same number of strokes for each to make rows that resemble the texture of a basket.
15. Wavy Lines
Start with long strokes of various shapes. Decide which areas you want to be solid colors. After filling those in, add more lines inside the shapes, following the existing contours. This is how “zentangles” are created and can be quite meditative to draw.
While never lifting your pencil, draw triangular, square, oval, and polygonal shapes all over the paper. Add contrast by applying a lot or a little pressure while also varying the distance apart the lines are.
- Use hatching, feathering, and contouring for initial sketches, to add volume and lighting, and to make your drawings look the most 3-dimensional.
- Use the dots, loops, wavy lines, and scribbling to add the look of metal, wood, fabric, or water.
- Textures are suitable for decorative pictures, styling work, formal composition, and other graphics.
- Featherings can be made "texture-like" by preserving the edges of the strokes the lead leaves. With this technique, the rougher the paper, the more vibrant the effect you’ll achieve.
I know that once you add some of these methods, you’ll notice your subjects begin looking more intricate and multi-dimensional. Good drawing takes practice; therefore, if you want to get better, don’t wait for a particular project. Instead, play with these methods in a sketchbook or drawing pad while at a coffee shop, watching television, or waiting for the bus. After all, the more you draw, the better you’ll get!