My Favorite Pencil and Graphite Drawing Supplies

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My Favorite Pencil and Graphite Drawing Supplies

After two decades of drawing, and lots of emails with the same questions, this post is focused on my favorite pencil and graphite drawing supplies. I’ve included links to resources when I could find them, in case you want to supplement your art supply cupboard.

If any of the items I’ve described here are puzzlers to you, please leave questions in the comments. I always love to hear from you, and I try to respond quickly.

a pencil drawing of a succulent in a pot in front of a tiled wall in progress with a mechanical pencil and a white plastic eraser
Using my favorite mechanical pencil (I got it from Amazon here) to grid and draw a succulent. Every click-to-extend the tip in this pencil also rotates the lead.

The Simplicity and Accessibility of Pencil Drawing

Most of us have been holding number two pencils since grade school, so the drag of lead against paper is very familiar. Beyond practicing penmanship and math – our pencils were the very first art supply we ever used.

We grasped pencils while doodling in the margins of homework, traced initials inside hearts on a desk, or sketched cartoon characters on book covers. We also learned to erase. Bravo for the discovery of correction at such a young and impressionable age!

A Mars Staedtler latex free cube eraser (I buy these in bulk, because they also make excellent hand carved rubber stamps), and two refillable stick erasers: a Pentel Clic Retractable and my favorite tiny-tipped detail eraser made by Tombow Mono Zero.
Drawing a friend in a Strathmore Sketch fine tooth surface spiral bound pad (9×12, 100 sheets)

Back to Basics with Pencil Drawings

No matter how many experimental art supplies I collect, I always return to the humble pencil. A tube of graphite and clay, encased in a painted cedar wood sheath, with a point on one end, and an eraser is all you need to make some art. Draw Something.

Pencils make hard, ruler-straight lines, or soft, graduated, transparent shading. You can cross hatch, or completely cover a passage in solid graphite.

With all the different marks produced by the tip or the side of your pencil lead, there is also a wide variety of values, depending on the lead-to-clay ratio (hardness) of your pencil. Each lead “feels” different while drawing.

Variations in papers also affect how graphite feels as it transfers from your pencils too. (Here is an article by Strathmore paper about Shading Techniques for Pencil.)

There’s a wide world to explore, with just a pencil and a sheet of paper. And we can all agree that a little drawing time provides opportunities for a particular version of slowing down, yes? Listen to music, a podcast or an audiobook (<–I’m listening to this one now), and draw for an hour. Afterwards, check in with yourself. Do you feel different/better than you did before you reached for your pencil?

A pencil extender and e woodless graphite lead holder
My pencil extender on the left – which provides a comfortable grip on pencils that are used down to short stubs. And my Faber Castell Clutch Pencil, which holds a length of 6B (soft) 3mm lead that can be extended from the tip by releasing a clutch at the rear of the stem. Have you ever used a clutch pencil?

New to Me: Blackwing Pencils

I’ve recently learned about Blackwing pencils, and I’m about to try them this month. I purchased the Matte pencil, which is soft, and recommended for shading and dark lines. I like that their eraser is a removable cartridge, so it can be replaced if you erase a lot (I do). The eraser is also rectangular, which will allow for more precise control in clearing graphite.

Have you tried them yet? Do you have any tips or recommendations about Blackwing pencils? Leave us some details on your thoughts about them in the comments.

Blackwing Matte pencil and sharpener system (the first opening shaves the wood, and the second opening sharpens the lead.)
Sketching from a photo outdoors on a sunny day with a moleskin sketch pad, a Prismacolor Turquoise Drawing Pencil (2H) and a Mars Staedtler telescoping Stick Eraser I keep my basic drawing supplies in a zippered pouch for On-the-Fly drawing sessions, outdoors, on the couch, or in an airplane. 🙂
Bath time sketch on watercolor paper with a number 6 woodless graphite pencil and a white plastic retractable eraser stick.
Everything I need: Derwent Sketching Wash pencil (the graphite dissolves when wet, which is great for drawing underneath a watercolor – see more about them below), a small 6 inch ruler, and two stick erasers – one fat and one tiny-tipped.
Drawing on a plane: This is a Speedball Handbook Journal with 95lb/200gsm watercolor paper, which works very well for graphite drawing too. The tools here are the Uni Kurutoga Mechanical Pencil (the lead rotates as you extend it) and the Tombow Mono Zero eraser – which is excellent for tiny erased lines in hair, eye lashes or dots of bright shine in eyes and ceramics, etc.
A sketchbook with a partially finished pencil drawing of a potted succulent and the drawing pencils used to create it
Strathmore Sketch pad with a Kho-I-Noor Progresso woodless pencil stub on the left – in a FineGood pencil extender, which has two sizes for standard and fatter diameter pencil stubs. The pencil on the right is a vintage clutch pencil with 2mm soft lead and a Staedtler rotary lead pointer tub for sharpening it nearby.
Making art at the kitchen counter after dinner.

End of the Day Drawing Time

After dinner sketching at the kitchen counter is a lovely way to squeeze art-making into a busy day. Keep everything you need in a zipper pouch: pencil, eraser, ruler, sharpener and capped travel paint brushes, in case you’d like to add watercolor.

Open an image on a tablet, flip open a Fluid watercolor block (above), pour yourself a beverage, grab your favorite pencil, and start drawing.

The little box near the green paint brush is a Van Gogh travel watercolor palette, with a shallow rinse cup pulled from the frosting cap in a pop-n-fresh cinnamon roll container. After the pencil drawing was finished, I added watercolor.

(Here are some tips and tools if you’re adding watercolor to your pencil sketches.)

I use these three manual sharpeners (above) the most while drawing: a Prismacolor capped sharpener (available here), a Staedtler rotary action lead pointer (more about them here) for use with a narrow body clutch pencil, and a solid brass Alvin bullet sharpener with a very sharp blade (see the details here). If you prefer a powered pencil sharpener for traditional wood and lead or colored pencils, take a look at this one.

Have you ever used powdered graphite to draw? It’s a lesson in “erasing the dark to reveal the light”. I like to start with a soft lead (6B) woodless pencil to map in a few guidelines, and then a paper towel to sweep broad swatches of graphite into the composition. Then I start to erase and add, erase and add, etc.
Fun with Simple Drawing Art Supplies: Powdered Graphite (in a bowl, above), a Soft Woodless Pencil and a paper towel next to my reference photo.
Listening to the Sea 20 x 24 inches – Powdered Graphite on paper (sold)
Figurative pencil drawing using a standard #2 mechanical pencil in preparation for a watercolor on a Fluid Watercolor Block (more about this portrait here) Working small like this brings you to Finished sooner. If you need to feel accomplished to stay motivated, I highly recommend working small.
When you want your pencil lines to disappear under a watercolor, sketch with these water-soluble pencils.
Pencil drawing of one of my nieces, on smooth Bristol Paper
Another pencil drawing using the Uni Kurutoga rotating lead mechanical pencil, and a retractable, rectangular white plastic eraser pen.
Have you ever used a drawing bridge? (Here’s one made from clear acrylic.) It’s convenient if you prefer to work flat – and you tend to rest your hand or wrist while drawing (or manipulating ink on a plate for a monotype) without touching/smudging the pencil or inks. Mine is wood, and it was made for me by my sweet stepdad, TC. Highly recommended.
Water-soluble graphite is super fun. This is not the same as the powdered graphite above, which is *not* water-soluble. This special graphite is sold in cakes, powder, sticks or putty, and the pencil dissolves in water, making it paintable, *and* erasable after it has dried! See the video demo below.

Paper Stumps vs Paper Towels for Blending

I’ve seen incredible videos on Instagram (do you know Eleeza’s [Eliza Ivanova] work?) featuring pencil drawings softened by smudging with rolled gray paper felt stumps. (Also known as tortillions)

I find stumps more useful to draw into or scrape away wet ink while creating a dark field monotype print. Even when blunted, petite contact at the end of a tortillion stump is too small to blend pencil for me. I’m an impatient smudger, I think.

When it comes to blending pencil or powdered graphite, I prefer using (and re-using) soft paper towels. Like a blending chamois, lead particles saturate paper towel and it becomes its own mark-maker, as well as a blender/softener. You can wrap the paper towel around a finger tip, crumple it into a walnut-sized round, or fold it to a point. When it gets too tattered, toss it, and start another one.

If you’re new to water-soluble graphite, here is a little demo video on different papers so you can give it a try.
Echeveria Study 9.25 x 5.5 pencil/graphite on paper

Portable Color: Canvas Pencil Holders

This canvas roll to hold colored pencils and watercolor pencils has traveled far and wide with me. It’s a very convenient way to take your colors with you – to the couch, or on an airplane.

Note the stick erasers, ruler and Uni Kurutoga mechanical lead pencils tucked into the far left of the line up in my canvas roll. I also keep one of the small Alwin brass Bullet pencil sharpeners tucked into the lower fla.

In order to make art supplies accessible, Ive got zippered pouches, canvas rolls and tote bags with drawing supplies tucked inside in strategic places. Near the couch, for after-dinner art making, in the car for spontaneous sketching, or plein air in a lovely spot, and on a hook in my studio, to grab-and-go. What do you do to make your art supplies as ready as they can be for a quick 40 minutes of creative time?

mat board collagraph with colored pencil
More couch time art: adding colored pencil to a collagraph print interior while using a lap desk in a comfy chair

Gather Your Drawing Pencils

I hope you’ve found some new pencil and graphite supplies to add to your drawing and sketching options. Have I missed any of your favorites?

Our first number two pencils from grade school work well for drawing, but now we have the option to select softer and harder leads, broad or tiny erasers, wet or dry graphite, etc.

In the realm of pencils and graphite, the world is your oyster, and I hope you experiment with some new versions of this very old art supply.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or observations, including links to helpful resources about pencil drawing. I’ve added two links below to previous pencil and graphite posts from my archive. Happy sketching to you.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the studio,


P.S. If you’ve never seen how pencils are made, watch this video.

Art Quote

Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.

Henri Cartier-Bresson
My favorite dusty rose pink linen artist’s apron. Mine has printmaking ink stains on it, but I love it anyway.

Drawing Posts from the Archives

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2 thoughts on “My Favorite Pencil and Graphite Drawing Supplies”

  1. Thanks for all the good tips, Belinda. I don’t do a lot of pencil sketching, but when I do some of my favorites are Derwent Graphitint tinted water-soluble graphite pencils. There are some lovely soft colors in the set of 24. I also like the Caran d’Ache Technalo line, three of which are tinted, and the Blackwing line with the accompanying sharpener. It’s one of the best I’ve used.

  2. Ah. Pencil sharpeners. It is really hard to find a workable one for other than graphite. I’ve actually gone to using a craft knife and making my own sandpaper pads. Beautiful drawings. I’m also a fan of Strathmore 500 Plate Bristol, on the one hand, and Arches Text Wove paper, on the other. Sometimes, more expensive is more economical in the scheme of things.

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