First Steps in the Art of Pencil Drawing

Pencil drawing appeals to many aspiring artists because it’s an inexpensive yet expressive medium. Drawings can range from quick sketches to full tonal artwork, and you probably have all the supplies you need to get started right now.

Ordinary Writing PencilJust One Pencil
You could produce a very nice sketch with just a “#2” or “HB” pencil, and that’s the hardness of most common pencils and the type you’re most likely to find tucked away in a desk drawer.

… Or A Few
However, graphite pencils are made in several degrees of hardness, with “9B” at the soft end of the scale and “9H” at the hard end. I suggest that you buy a small set. If you want to purchase them separately, buy a 2B, 4B, B, 2H, and 4H.

You’ll be able to use these extra pencils to create a larger range of textures and shading than you could with just an HB pencil.

drawing paperSketching Paper
You could use any unlined paper for sketching, but paper that’s specifically labeled for drawing or sketching has a texture that “holds on” to the graphite better than normal writing paper. You can find inexpensive drawing pads in the office supply section of most stores.

A few other handy items to pick up while you’re shopping are a handheld pencil sharpener, a few different types of erasers, and a box or a bag for your supplies.

Realistic Drawing
Most people want to draw realistically, and anyone can learn to draw that way with practice. Contrary to popular belief though, you’ll need to draw from life or a photo and not from your imagination. While you might be able to visualize what you want to draw, you’ll find that the details are elusive unless you have a photographic memory.

Learning to draw what you see realistically requires that you see the subject in an objective way, and that you move the pencil so that it mimics the shape or outline of the subject. Both of these skills can be improved by the use of a drawing “grid” and by regular practice.

A Drawing Grid
A drawing grid breaks the subject into smaller and easier to draw parts. It’s easy to create a grid on top of a photo, so I recommend you try that first.

Drawing Grid On Photo

Drawing Grid On Photo

How To Make It
Print out a digital photo at the same size you’d like to draw it.

Use a ruler and a soft pencil (2B or 4B) to divide the photo into halves and then quarters.

Drawing Grid On Paper

Drawing Grid On Paper

Next, lightly draw a divided rectangle of the same size on the drawing paper. Use a ruler to make sure the lines are straight and the squares are the same size.

Drawing On A Grid

Drawing On A Grid

How To Use It
On your drawing paper grid, mark where the subject in the photo crosses each line of its grid, and then connect those marks as you draw the outline of the subject.

Another way to use the grid is to concentrate on drawing just one square at a time. Lots of beginners, and some advanced artists, too, use this second method of grid drawing because subjects are more manageable when drawn in small “bites.”

Whichever method you use, erase the grid lines when you’re done and you’ll have a line drawing that you can leave as is or enhance it with shading and texture.

Shading Exercises
Adding three dimensionality with shading is exciting, but it requires some skill. Here are two beginning shading exercises to get you started.

Shade A Ball

Shade Three Dimensional Pyramids

And here are more exercises and videos that will help you learn more about drawing.

Keep Drawing
Finally, to draw well you have to draw a lot. Drawing through self judgement and fear of failure is essential.  I’ve been drawing for over 30 years, and I still have to remind myself to keep drawing through all the “stuff” that tries to get in the way. So just keep drawing, no matter what.

All my best,

Some images were kindly provided by Dick Blick.