Anatomy of a Pencil, How You Can Hold a Pencil and All the Marks You Can Make!
In this pencil drawing round-up, instructor Kathi Hanson discusses tons of pencil drawing ideas that start with knowing the anatomy of the tool you are using, how you can hold a pencil for different strokes, and all the marks you can make. Enjoy!
And be ready to add expression and dimension in your drawings with tips from some of your favorite artists in the Top 10 Art Techniques: Pencil Drawing video download, available now!
The first time you pick up a pencil…
…and try to draw something it can be strangely intimidating. You really have no idea where to start or what to do AND you usually end up feeling like you have no talent for sketching. If this has happened to you, do not give up. It’s not that you can’t draw, it’s you don’t know how to draw yet — and you don’t know all the pencil drawing ideas that are waiting for you!
So today all I want you to focus on is learning the anatomy of a pencil, getting comfortable holding a pencil, and then discovering and practicing several common mark-making techniques. Don’t fear, as there is no way to fail at this!
Pencil Anatomy Facts
The most common pencil used for drawing is graphite. The core is silver in hue and comes in several degrees. The “degree” of a pencil reflects how soft or hard the pencil core is (how dark or light the mark will be on the paper).
The HB pencil is mid-range in value and it is the most commonly used pencil for initial sketching. Any pencil with a B on it is softer than the HB and any pencil with an H on it is harder than the HB pencil.
The higher the number on a “B” pencil, the softer the lead is so the pencil will make a broader, darker mark on your paper than any previous number. The higher the number H on the pencil the harder the lead is and the mark it leaves on your paper is lighter and thinner than any previous number.
The shape of the pencil tip plays a huge role in the type of mark the pencil will create.
A sharp tip will create thin, precise lines.
A rounded tip will produce lines that are slightly thicker.
Because more core pigment is exposed, a rounded tip fills in areas faster than a sharp point will.
A blunt (flat) tip creates the thickest lines and has the most pigment exposed for filling in areas quickly.
Holding Your Pencil
The way you hold a pencil will determine how controlled your pencil lines will be. The “Handwriting position” is the most common position used when drawing because it allows you a variety of control options when creating line work or details.
The closer your fingers are to the tip of the pencil, the tighter your marks will be. If you move your finger grip slightly further back on the pencil, your line work, shading and detail lines will be slightly looser and lighter because less pressure and control can be applied. The further back you go, the lighter and looser the lines or shade will be.
Using the “Overhand position” when drawing will produce even looser lines because you have less control holding the pencil like this. (The pencil is positioned under your hand, being held in place by your thumb on one side, index finger (rests on top of pencil core), and the other three fingers rest on the other side of the pencil core). Some examples of when you would use this grip are filling in large areas of a design with pigment, or creating diffused foliage areas and the like.
The third hand position is the “Underhand position.” You turn your hand palm side up, rest the pencil in the palm of the hand and on top of your index finger, and grab the pencil core sides with your thumb and remaining fingers.) I use this position when I want to create loose initial shapes on paper mounted on an easel.
Pick Up Your Pencil
It’s time to pick up a pencil and create some marks with it! The first drawing exercise I’d like you to try is grasp the pencil in the handwriting position, with your fingers near the tip of the pencil and create a simple line.
Next move your fingers further from the tip and create the same line. Then create the same line again with your hand positioned even further away from the tip. This technique is called mark making utilizing the entire length of the pencil barrel.
You should notice that the further away from the tip you hold the pencil the lines become lighter and looser.
Now let’s focus on additional “mark making” options commonly used in a drawing. Each mark communicates something different and these assorted marks are the vehicles we use to convey how soft or airy an object is, if the object in motion, the feeling of texture, or if an object is thick, dense, or stationery.
Strokes for Movement
Here are several common strokes used to create movement within a drawing. The marks on the far left communicate nature in motion (grass blowing in the breeze). The middle and far left strokes are ones you can use to express how fast or slow water is moving in a current.
Strokes for Denseness
These marks create a sense of denseness in an object. Solid objects can be any shape that is why the far left marks can be used to create a rounded, thick, heavy stone sphere. The middle strokes could be used for the shaded side of a thick, large tree trunk. For rocks, wood, or thumbnail sketches (rough sketches) of landscape background trees, the strokes on the far right work well.
Strokes for Softness and Fullness
These marks are great for creating the illusion of softness or fullness. I like to use these marks when creating rounded objects like the center of a flower or snowball or lush delicate types of foliage.
Strokes for Texture
These are perfect examples of marks used to create texture in objects such as fruit and rocks, wood and tree trunks.
Final Pencil Drawing Ideas and Tips
~Always choose artist quality pencils. Student grade pencils do not contain as much pigment in the pencil core, which limits your drawing options at times. My pencil of choice is General’s Kimberly® Graphite pencils.
~All sharpeners are not alike. A quality sharpener has a stainless steel German blade in it. I use a Lil Red All Art Sharpener (by General Pencil) because its blade is angled to create a factory point (rounded tip with pigment evenly exposed on all sides) every time.
Remember, draw often and laugh even more! ~Kathi
Kathi Hanson has been teaching workshops across the U.S. and Canada for the past twenty five years. She is known for her vast knowledge of subject matter, her unique special effect techniques in multiple mediums, and her creative, informative, teaching style.
Kathi also tours year-round as a speaker at colleges around the United States sharing her varied art techniques with students in the Foundations, Sequential, Painting and Illustration departments.