A Beginner’s Guide To Graphite Drawing Pencils, Erasers and Blenders

How to choose them and use them.

Graphite Drawing Pencils

Derwent Drawing PencilsThe graphite that’s used in “normal” pencils is the same graphite used in artist quality pencils. The only difference is the type and quantity of filler that’s mixed with the graphite to create different degrees of hardness.

The softest grade of pencil is a 9b and the hardest is a 9h. The most common pencil ‘writing’ pencil is usually an HB (in the middle of the scale.)

Artist’s pencils vary in quality. Some companies don’t do a very good job at mixing in the filler and this leaves hard grains of the stuff mixed in with the softer graphite. It’s possible to actually tear the surface of the paper with one of these poorly made pencils.

I currently use Caran d’ache Grafwood Pencils for my ‘fine’ art drawing and Derwent Graphic pencils for sketching.

Fortunately, pencils aren’t too expensive and they last for quite a while. I suggest that you buy a range of grades (4B, 2B, HB, 2H, 4H) of the same brand. If you do come across one that’s “grainy,” sharpen past that spot to see if the rest of the pencil’s lead is usable. If not, throw it away.

Drawing Pencil Grades

pencil grade scale

Here’s a more detailed review of pencil brands.

Erasers

Kneaded EraserKneaded Eraser – A very soft eraser that you can form into shapes with your fingers. You can roll this eraser into a point, pinch it into a wedge, roll it into a ball, or make it into any shape you need.

I use this type of eraser most of all and I use it for so many things that I don’t know where to start, so I’ll mention the one thing they’re are not good for.

Kneaded erasers are not good for completely erasing an area. In areas where I need to erase completely (that have a lot of dark graphite applied to them) I use a kneaded eraser first to lift as much graphite as possible. Then I use a stiffer eraser to finish erasing completely.

You can actually push very dark graphite farther into the paper by trying to erase it with a vinyl eraser too quickly and with a lot of pressure. If that happens, it’s impossible to completely remove the graphite. To avoid it, always lift as much graphite as possible with a kneaded eraser first.

Stick Eraser

Stick Eraser – These erasers are made of a vinyl type of material. They usually come in a plastic holder and you can expose more eraser by clicking the top of the holder. This type of eraser can be cut into different shapes very easily. A wedge shape can be used to erase thin lines if you draw it across the paper using the long edge of the wedge shape. A pointed shape can be used to create delicate detail and erase tiny highlights.

The Tombow Mono Zero Eraser has a very small eraser diameter that’s useful for tight areas. It’s stiff but won’t damage the paper.

Battery Powered EraserBattery Powered Eraser – A small nib eraser fits in the end of the eraser and spins when you press a button. You can spin the tip of the nib on an emery board and sharpen it down to an extremely fine point.

You can use these erasers to “draw” into graphite hatching to create interesting effects and fine details.

wipe-out-tool
Color Shaper or Sculture Wipe Out Tool – I have more information about these tools under Blenders below.

You can use these tools to lighten areas of graphite by gently dabbing and rolling, if you keep the tip clean. Keep the tip clean by rubbing it across your kneaded eraser.

Blenders

blending stumpsStump – A double pointed paper stick made of paper pulp that come in many sizes. Gently rub them across hatching to blend graphite.

The pointed end gets a little fuzzy as you use it and that helps the blending process. You can also use an emery board to sharpen the point or make it any shape you want.

You can use a clean stump to “lift” graphite in a very subtle way by tapping the clean tip lightly against the hatching. As the stump gets dirty, swirl the tip in a kneaded eraser to clean it.

tortillonTortillon – A pointed blender shaped like a stump but made of rolled paper. Because they are made of rolled paper, they have a harder surface and don’t blend graphite as well as stumps do.

large and small brush for blendingBrushes – A small (1/8″ – 1/4″) straight or angled brush works well for delicate blending. They can be made even more useful by trimming the bristles back to about an eight of an inch long. This makes the bristles stiffer and easier to control. A larger flat brush, of course, works equally well for blending larger areas.

You can also use brushes to ‘paint’ with powdered graphite. You can create watercolor-like washes, clouds, and other smooth or foggy textures. Here’s my How To Work With Powdered Graphite tutorial.

Holbein Shader BrushSpecialty brushes – You can find round brushes with short thick bristles made specifically for blending pastels, and some of them work for blending graphite too.

The Holbein Horse Hair 1/4″ Round ” Blender with the black bristles in this image is the one I own and recommend. It applies the graphite onto the paper quite well, however this is a pricey little brush.

brushes toll decorative for blendingYou can find brushes that are made for stenciling and decorative painting that are the same style as the Holbein, but are much less expensive. And they work with graphite just as well.

I’ve experimented with many different styles of brushes for working with graphite, and I think that stiffer bristles work best. Stiff bristles “push” the graphite and blend it better than soft bristles do.


wipe-out-tool
Color Shaper or Sculpting Wipe Out Tool – You can buy these tools either as the very expensive ‘Colour Shaper tm,’ or as the much less expensive sculpture ‘wipe out’ tool. You can buy an entire sculpture set for the price of one Colour Shaper ‘firm’ tip. (The CS soft tip is too soft for graphite blending.)

I don’t know if the Colour Shaper firm tip is made from a different type of silicone than the sculpture sets, but I can tell you that I have tried both and they work the same for me.

These tools come in different sizes, from gigantic to tiny, and you can blend graphite with them, if you’re careful. You can, of course, be more delicate with a smaller tool, but since the points of some of the tools come down to a long taper, you can use the tools that come in the larger size sculpture sets too.

chamois for blendingChamois Cloth – A very thin and soft suede-like piece of leather. You can use this to blend large areas of graphite. You can also use it to lift graphite out of an area of that has become too dark.

To get more control over the cloth, fold it and use the point of a corner to lightly dab or stroke an area until it lightens.

The images on this page were kindly provided by Dick Blick.