Whether you’re a seasoned artist or a keen amateur, drawing with pencil on a piece of paper is where most artistic journeys started. But pencil drawing is not only a childhood pursuit. Many artists still use a pencil in a lot of their work, whether it is for drawing outlines, quick sketches for ideas, or creating beautiful works of art. Drawing with a pencil is one of those fundamental skills that can help you grow as an artist.
Here are a couple of ways in which you can improve your pencil drawing skills:
Tip 1) Look in the Mirror
You often get so engrossed in the drawing that you don’t notice small mistakes. Viewing your drawing in a mirror will give you a different perspective. It will allow you to notice little errors like irregular textures, shading or incorrect proportions. The idea is to get another perspective. Step away from the drawing, look at it from different angles and distances. Sometimes it’s even a good idea to take a break, then come back to your drawing and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Drawing is not only helpful when creating various forms of art, it’s also fun as an exercise on its own. And while these tips will help you improve your drawing skills, the best way to become better at drawing is still practice, practice, practice.
Tip 2) Change Your Grip
Where you grip the pencil can make a big difference. In fact, there are many ways to hold a pencil to achieve different results. These include the following:
Traditional (tripod grip) — such as used for writing: this is great for drawing fine detail and shading as you have a lot of control over the pencil.
Paintbrush grip (extended tripod) — holding the pencil towards the back of the handle like you would a paintbrush: ideal for light shading, making delicate marks and covering large areas.
Overhand grip (tip heavy) — holding the pencil like you would pick it up from a table, close to the tip: allows you to more accurately control the pressure on the tip and is often used to create dark, detailed markings or cover large areas of shading. It’s also often used when working on an easel.
Underhand grip (drumstick) — the traditional tripod grip flipped upside down: creates a relaxed and loose grip that is used to draw broad, casual strokes. Also often used when drawing with charcoal or graphite sticks.
Also consider that besides where you hold the pencil, the shape of the pencil itself makes an impact on your precision. Arteza offers triangular grip colored pencils that provide superior comfort, precision, and accuracy.
Tip 3) Use Different Grades
Pencils come in different grades of hardness.
This is usually indicated by the letter H or B and a number that’s printed either on the pencil itself or on the box, ranging from 9H to 9B on the other end of the spectrum, and HB in the middle. H (hard) pencils have harder, and B (black/bold) have softer ‘lead’ (graphite). These determine the type of mark the pencil makes on paper, the softer the pencil, the darker the mark, making it great for dark shadows, while harder pencils like 4B are great for very fine detail. Most artists have a range of pencils that range from 2H through 6B.
While the most common types of pencils are wood-cased pencils, however, these change weight and size when they’re being sharpened, which also affects their balance. For this reason, many artists prefer clutch-pencils as they have a consistent weight and size and use lead refills that range in hardness similar to regular pencils. What makes clutch pencils even more versatile is that they can accommodate refills of different diameters, so you can adjust it according to the type of drawing you will be doing.
Other types of pencils include progresso pencils - thick pencils without the wood casing but coated to make them clean to work with, great for broad shading; and graphite sticks - plain sticks of graphite (in various degrees of hardness) that is most often used to make large marks, and is very popular with life drawing. Be careful when working with these, because they are very messy not only on your hands and fingers but they often leave a fine dark residue around the drawing area.
Tip 4) Stop Smudging
Smudging can be a big problem when drawing with a pencil when drawing with softer pencils. To help avoid ruining carefully drawn lines with your palm, arm or side of your hand, use a piece of paper under your drawing hand. Work from left-to-right if you’re right-handed or right-to-left if you’re left-handed. The paper used to shield your hand can also smudge the drawing when it becomes dirty, so be sure to check it often.
However, smudging isn’t ALL bad - it can be used to great effect with soft blending or drawing things like clouds or sky. Scribble a little swatch on a piece of paper then smudge it around the area that you want to fill. Softer pencils work best for this as the shading can be more controlled. The same goes for creating soft blending lines, but instead of paper, draw a line with a softer pencil, then create the blend by using a small piece of paper or Q-tip.
Also, consider that there are many types of pencils that are meant to be smudged. For example, the Arteza Woodless Watercolor Pencils are meant to be smudged with water to create beautiful watercolor effects.
Tip 5) Experiment With Lines
Play around with line lengths, widths, and weights in to create different effects such as shadows, lights, and texture. This can include changes to things like line widths, drawing at different angles or changing the pressure to create darker lines. Experiment with different line lengths, using lines to create shading with techniques such as hatching, and also different types and grades of pencils.
While you can erase mistakes on a pencil drawing, it’s not ideal as you more often than not erase more than you intend to. This makes it very important to practice different line lengths and drawing techniques on a separate piece of paper so you can make sure you get the desired effect before applying it to your drawing.
One thing to note is that the different construction of certain pencils will affect the line widths that they naturally produce. For example, the Arteza Woodless Pencils contain up to 5 times more lead than regular colored pencils and as such, they are able to produce significantly thicker lines.
Tip 6) Don’t Overdraw
When you start a drawing, don’t rush into it by putting down hard, dark lines. Start with light, loose lines to get the feel for the drawing and the lines you want to draw, then take it from there. As you progress with the drawing keep checking your work to see that everything looks as planned. Leave the finer details and darker lines until the end. It’s easier to change light lines and darken them afterward than it is to do the opposite.
At the same time, one of the most difficult things with drawing, and any art for that matter is to decide when it is finished, because there is always more you can add; a line here, a shade there. This makes it easy to overdraw. The important thing is to step away from the work and consider whether adding to it will really improve it, then either make the additions or sign your name and put down your pencil.
You can browse Arteza’s full collection of colored pencils to find something that will perfectly suit your needs.
Colored pencils are great if you are wanting more precise control as you work. I love what can be done with them and how they can render artwork that can’t be told from oil paintings.
Hi Kathy Kangas,
Of course, you’re more than welcome
Hi Tia Broderius,
thank you for the suggestion! We will be publishing many more articles like that in the coming weeks
Hi Polly Stuard,
Thank you we really appreciate the kind words :)