Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pencil Notes

Pressing hard with a pencil leaves indentations in paper that won't release. Erasing becomes a chore and the remaining furrows shadow out like ghosts on the page. However, without pressing down, my intuition finds it impossible to obtain hard edges and dark tones. Last night’s exercises proved that wrong. I spent a couple of hours experimenting with various pencil grades, pressures, and erasures. I worked by naked eye, 3.5X, and 10X. Here are some thoughts based on my experiments:
  • Sharp pencils give hard edges and dark tones. Circular pencil movement approaches the paper’s tooth from many angles, essentially filling in the paper.
  • Do the softer pencils provide darker tones? Perhaps somewhat, but a sharp 2B in circular motion brings out tones close to a 6B--although the softer pencil is indeed a good deal faster, perhaps useful for filling large areas with a dark homogeneous tone. Using a 6B reminds me of spreading soft butter.
  • A sharp 4H is so hard that it can easily indent the paper.

I suspect that each paper behaves differently and I have new paper coming in soon to test that out. I'm seeing how taking the time to experiment can be so, so valuable.


  1. Your holly branch turned out beautifully! You should be so pleased!
    You're right- your pencil work will respond differently on other papers. Personally, I prefer a very smooth hot pressed surface. My all time favorite paper for both drawing and watercolor is Arches 140lb. hot press paper (full sheets- blocks and pads are just not the same for some weird reason). Drawing on its silky surface is addicting.

  2. Thanks Gretchen! :-)

    That's curious about blocks being different. I hadn't thought about watercolor paper. Have Arches and Fabriano HP blocks here so I must try them out too.

  3. If you have blocks of arches and fabriano (my second favorite) hot press (HP), by all means TRY THEM!! For pencil and other dry mediums you will be fine. But for some reason when you use the blocks/pads for watercolor, the sizing is a tiny bit different than the full sheets; I have read that other watercolorists have found this to be true as well. I buy full sheets and cut (actually I fold and tear) them to my desired size.
    You will find "your" favorite paper soon enough! I keep an ever growing folder of paper samples that I "test" on whenever I get a new paint, ink or pens and/or pencils.

  4. Hi to you both from Val .. love the holly John..

    Also I am hijacking your blog to say thanks to gretchen for her lovely comment on the blog!
    I do agree about papers. It's so personal and really it gets to be what you most like that suits your own style of work...
    P.S. the indents in paper can work to your advantage, you can shade over a "blind" indent to create a white line. I dont do that much myself as I am not that organised but have seen it used well sometimes.

  5. Sounds like you have a nice system, Gretchen. More paper came in today so I have plenty to test!

  6. Thanks, Val! :-)

    I did try out that technique with a dull knife edge. It may come in handy for Timothy's whiskers when the day comes that I work up the nerve to draw him. ;-)

    It actually (and totally accidentally!) worked to advantage on my solitary holly leaf drawing. I guess once I learn to manage my control better that I could add it to my bag of tricks.