What Pencils are Best for Drawing and Sketching?

One of the problems you may face as you get started sketching and drawing is trying to figure out just what you need.

There are so many products on the market for drawing and sketching, it’s hard to know for sure.

Every artist has their own preferences. I’m no different. Here are my preferred pencils that I use for doing any kind of pencil drawings or sketching.

When it comes to pencils, I like regular Dixon Ticonderoga #2 Pencils, because their leads are of a good quality, their erasers don’t make ugly pink marks on my paper, and they are American made (helping our economy). This is not an “art” pencil or a “drawing” pencil; you can find it in the office supply section of most stores. It’s a great all-purpose pencil.

Mechanical Pencils and Lead Holders

What pencils are best to use when starting out drawing and sketching?

I’ve grown to love using mechanical pencils and lead holders when drawing, mostly because I don’t need to stop to use a pencil sharpener.

A Mechanical Pencil is usually refillable with leads of various hardness or softness and stays fairly sharpened. While teaching art at a school, I realized that giving kids mechanical pencils was less time consuming than letting them perpetually run to the pencil sharpener.

A Lead Holder is like a mechanical pencil, except you need to manually load and move your pencil leads. I have two lead holders. One is blue and holds my harder (light colored) lead, and the other is red, holding my softer (darker) leads for shading.

Graphite Drawing Pencils

For drawing pencils, there is not a huge difference in the quality of the different student brands. Usually, a set of graphite drawing pencils has an assortment of the various kinds of pencils and works well for students. Some sketchers eventually develop a preference for certain hardnesses of drawing pencil, and in that case, you can buy individual pencils in the hardness of your choice.

You’ll need to first understand what the different letters and numbers mean.

  • H stands for Hard, and the pencils with an H after them (2H, 3H, 4H) are increasing in lead hardness. A harder lead means that the lines will be fainter. These kinds of pencils are good for very light, detailed lines, and for creating guidelines you plan to erase later. I use these when I sketch out my cartoons or when I am blocking out a composition, deciding where to place different items in a sketch.
  • B, on the other hand, stands for Bold, and the pencils with a B after their name (2B, 3B, 4B, etc.) have increasingly softer leads. A softer lead means darker lines, and these pencils are ideal for shading, shadows, and giving a picture good contrast. Many artists prefer to do their first sketch with a soft lead pencil. I’m different in that regard because I usually just use a regular #2 pencil from Dixon Ticonderoga.

As you start sketching, you’ll develop a preference for what hardness of pencils you prefer to use when you sketch. Most of the time, if you are doing you entire drawing in pencil, you’ll want a selection of different hardnesses.

Graphite Sticks

A Graphite Stick, which is basically a long piece of graphite pencil lead, can be useful for large sketching too. The graphic stick is also helpful for shading in large areas in the background of a page.

Like Graphite Drawing Pencils, Graphite Sticks are sold in various hardnesses, labeled as B’s or H’s. HB is again right in the middle.

I like to have at least a 2-4B Graphite Stick to lay down a shaded background in some sketches and drawings.

Ebony Pencils

An artist friend turned me onto Ebony Pencils a few years ago. These help you create rich, black areas in your drawing without being too soft. I love these for adding some darker details as I finish up a drawing.

Most of us have a problem with getting good contrast in finished pencil drawings, and the Ebony Pencils can help you create the super black areas in your drawing without smearing.

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