What are some good materials to use for drawing?

Hi my name is Carrie and I want you to proudly call yourself an artist. Here on Artist Strong we help artists like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice. Today I want to go back to basics and talk about our perhaps most taken-for-granted tool, the pencil.

I’ve seen great art created with everyday ballpoint pens and our #2 school pencils. I truly don’t believe you need anything but what you have in your home to make art. That being said I know people can feel curious about what materials to choose when they decide they want to upgrade their tools. So let’s talk about it. 

Pencils come in a range of hardnesses.

The harder pencils are labeled H and the higher the number, the harder the pencil. These are ideally used for super light sketches to begin to plan or lay out a drawing. If you find yourself leaving a mark that’s also a dent in your paper you’re pushing too hard on the paper with your pencil. If you want darker marks, switch to a softer pencil. Otherwise, let up on that pressure and let your H range pencils do their light but very important working of laying out the foundations of your drawing.

Pencils in the B range are your softer pencils and thus, create darker marks. The higher the number, the softer the pencil and thus, the darker the mark. Personally I try to avoid using my darkest pencils until I’m nearing the finish line in a drawing. It can be very difficult to make any corrections with erasers and they can leave permanent shadows on your paper if you try to erase layers that are too thick. 

I like to transition from a harder pencil to something like an HB or 2B before I go any darker with my marks. This lets me tentatively place values until I’m completely confident I have everything where I want it.

I enjoy using something called an ebony pencil to create my darkest darks.

Brands that I’ve enjoyed using include Grumbacher, Faber-Castell,and Prismacolor.

There are other graphite tools to explore.

Some artists swear by mechanical pencils, and I’ve also enjoyed working with large chunks of graphite that are shaped like a pencil or piece of crayon or charcoal. 

Mechanical pencils do well when it comes to details and line work and I enjoy working with my larger chunks of graphite when I’m working big and in a gestural manner.

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All of these tools are great, but ultimately exploring them and narrowing down what works best for your techniques and creative approach is the most important thing. There is no one “right” or “wrong” art tool to use. Art has never been a one-size-fits-all discipline and it never will be!

I encourage you to explore different media in a sketchbook or through completing a series of artworks that allow you to work with different materials to help you decide what you enjoy best.

You can also create value charts as well as texture/mark-making charts to help you observe the varied approaches to using each tool so you know how far you can push it and what each kind of drawing tool is fully capable of.

Something I will also note as an aside: I see a lot of people, myself included at one point, who hold their skill level to standards that I now realize are completely unreasonable and almost unkind. Sometimes, our tools DO have limitations.

Perhaps we can’t get our drawing dark enough, or need a highlight somewhere we can’t erase. Please, please, please give yourself permission to incorporate the use of more than one tool in your artwork if you find yourself in this position.

It is not a failure to use many media to achieve your goals. The real failure is giving up on yourself and your art when you don’t meet the super high expectations you have of yourself.

Now tell me: do you have particular brands you love when it comes to pencils? I’d love to hear about them! Type or tag them in the comments below so we can create a handy resource for anything starting to think about upgrading their materials.

If you like this video please like and subscribe to Artist Strong. And if you’re interested in more videos that break down artist tools like this tell me what you’d like to see next in the comments below.

Thanks for watching. Remember: proudly call yourself artist. Together we are Artist Strong.