Toad Hollow Studio's Drawing Tutorials And Classes by Carol Rosinski

How I Draw With Graphite Pencil

by Carol Rosinski

This article was one of the first pages on this website. I wrote it to share what I'd learned about drawing and specifically my graphite drawing techniques. Even though it was written some time ago, I still think about drawing and work this way.
~ Topics ~
Drawing Philosophy

Pencil Drawing Techniques
Smooth Pencil Hatching
Using Value Scales
Making and Using Masks

Paper And Photo References

Learning how to Draw
Understanding Perspective
Powdered Graphite Value Studies
Learning to Control Your Tools

Last Thoughts
Ice, Fur, And Other Details
For Beginners
Drawing as a Lifestyle

All you really need to draw is paper, pencil and eraser, but here are a few other tools that are very useful.

Starter List (the minimum tools you'll need to get started)

  • A range of graphite pencils from very soft to very hard - 4B, 2B, B, 2H, and 4H
  • A sharpener
  • Paper with a smooth surface
  • Eraser assortment (gum, kneaded, plastic, etc.)
  • A good light to work under
Extra Tools
  • The entire range of pencils - 9B through 9H
  • Ebony Pencil (Ebony is the brand name of a very soft dark pencil.)
  • Electric eraser (A small battery powered eraser is worth the investment!)
  • Lap tray (or other comfortable working area)
  • Index cards for making masks
Find more beginner, experienced and advanced tool and drawing supply lists here.
See the tools I use here.

My Drawing Philosophy

Drawing is a quiet and thoughtful contemplation of the world. Drawing is centering. Drawing is an exquisitely expressive way to show your inner visions to the world. A well done drawing tells your story and states your truth without saying a word. What a magical thing that is to do.

The gray scale of a graphite drawing is very soothing to look at. It seems cool and unhurried. The light and shadow of the gray scale are the underpinnings of the real world. This is the layer of reality underneath the bright and hurried world we usually see. In the gray scale, there is room enough and time enough for fairies to exist.

Drawing with graphite feels like sculpting with light and shadow and in many ways it is.

My Graphite Pencil Drawing Technique - Drawing Smoothly with Light and Shadow

I like to create a drawing surface so smooth so that the eye of the viewer never gets caught on a rough spot. I draw values (light and shadow) smoothly by manipulating the graphite after the hatching is done.

When you lay down a layer of graphite with a pencil, it sticks on the high points of the paper grain and skips over the low spots. I fill in all the little parts of the paper that are missed and "pick out" the dark notes. The result looks like the graphite has been applied in washes instead of hatching.

Smooth Pencil Hatching

roughly drawn tulip smoothly drawn tulip

This tulip was drawn without smoothing the graphite in any way.

This tulip was drawn using various techniques to smooth the graphite.

As you can see from the tulip drawings above, smoothing the graphite creates defined modeling and allows fine detail. Here's how I do it:

1. I use a small brush to blend the graphite.

2. I add graphite to the light areas with a sharp pencil tip.

3. And I lighten the dark spots with a sharpened or shaped eraser. (I explain how to do this in more detail in the Draw a Smoothie technique lesson.)

Using A Value Scale
No matter what the subject is, drawing it well is always a matter of recreating its values.

1. Make a value scale on the same paper you're drawing on.

2. Try to use a full range of pencil grades to make the values so that you'll get a feel for what sort of value each grade can create.

3. Leave one end untouched and gradate the scale into the deepest black you can make with a soft pencil without crushing the grain of the paper.

Gray Scale
Example of a Gradated Value Scale

To use a value scale:

1. Hold it in front of the subject.

2. Find the value you want to draw on the scale.

3. And then hold it near the drawing to check your values.

4. It's very hard to see the value of some colors because they're so vivid. If you have that problem, squint your eyes. That blurs the details and tones down intense color.

Even after many years of drawing, I still use a scale because getting the values right at the beginning saves hours of work later on!

Making and Using Masks
If you're working from a photograph, you can make masks that will help you see value. Here are some instructions for making and using masks:

1. Make a good sized square hole (1" to 2" sq.) in a sheet of white paper or an index card. This mask will be for use on a 3x5" or 4x5" photo. mask 1
2. Make another square hole in another sheet of the same paper in proportion to the size of the drawing you'll be making. mask 2
3. Use paper clips or low tack tape to hold the masks on your photo and drawing paper. I have instructions for making a magnetic drawing board that works very well for holding the masks in place. masks in use

By surrounding both areas with white, you'll be able to see the values and draw them better. Besides helping you to see values, masks will help keep the drawing in proportion as you work. Sometimes it's only necessary to use masks for the focus point or most detailed part of the drawing.

Carol Rosinski
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Drawing Made Easy, Getting Started by Carol Rosinski
My book Drawing Made Easy; Getting Started

Toad Hollow Studio - Teaching how to draw since 1999