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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
Portable Color: Canvas Pencil Holders
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?
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.
Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.Henri Cartier-Bresson
Drawing Posts from the Archives
- After a handful of emails asking for help understanding the difference, I published this answer: What is the difference between colored pencils and Watercolor Pencils?
- After experimenting with powdered and water soluble graphite *underneath* watercolor, I posted these observations: Powdered and Water-Soluble Graphite Under Watercolors