Drawing Tips: Pencil Facts | Part 1

I have had a few enquiries from people on Facebook requesting drawing tips.  So I decided to start a series of posts sharing some things I have learned.  Let me just state that there are much smarter people out there in the world than I, but I love what I do and I don’t mind sharing some knowledge.  So here goes!

It is no secret that not all pencils are created equal, and while most people don’t realise this – there are a myriad of different types of pencils.  Walk into any local art store and you are bound to see a vast array of sets of variable sizes.  You can buy anything from watercolour pencils to pastel pencils, ink-based pencils, wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils.  Some are coloured, others graphite, some in bright colours, others muted – the range is endless it seems.

I won’t pretend to know everything there is, but I can share my experience with brands I have tried and am using – therefor I will mainly discuss some wax- and oil-based sets.

Classifying them as oil- or wax-based is actually a bit of a misnomer as all oil-based pencils are a combination of wax and oil.  This obviously refers to their core and classification merely depends on the ratio wax to oil.  The more wax, the softer the lead and the easier the pencil will lay down colour.  The negative side is that a lot of wax means that layering ability is affected by the wax bloom a pencil will give off as it lays down colour – after a while its simply not possible to layer more colour on top.  Oil-based pencils tend to have a harder lead, is better for detail as they sharpen to a finer point and doesn’t wax bloom so quickly, but they might not lay down as easily as wax-based pencils.

So what do you choose then?

It really depends on your subject.  With a fine point an oil-based pencil is great for finer details, but with colour laying down vividly a wax-based pencil might be great for layering to achieve bright patches of colour.

At the moment I am working on a commission for a client of some ducklings, and I am actually using a combination of wax- and oil-based pencils.  The great thing is that you can use them together to achieve exactly the look you want.

Pencil quality also depends on a lot of factors aside from the type of lead.  Ideally you want a pencil that is manufactured well, doesn’t break easily and that blends and layers well.  If you are only drawing for yourself and not aiming to sell, you can settle for a less lightfast brand, but a professional artist will need professional tools.  Lightfastness refers to the colour being fade resistant and basically means that the image will last a lifetime instead of fading to a light miscoloured version.  Most pencils do come with a lightfastness rating and I for one only purchase brands that are renowned for this trait.  Sometimes this means purchasing pencils individually or cutting certain individual colours from a set.

I hope this quick introduction to pencils helped a bit – watch out for more posts discussing the specific sets I’ve tried, and covering other topics such as paper, solvents, tools etc.

In the meantime – just keep drawing!

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