The pencil artist doesn’t require many materials. The picture above illustrates all that the pencil illustrator / artist might need at the start; if necessary, he can do with less.
Graphite Pencils – A majority of pencil drawings are done with graphite (lead) pencils, so these should be mastered before turning to other types, of which there are several see Chapters 8 and 9.
While it is sometimes possible to do a good drawing with a cheap pencil the kind used in schools and offices the standard drawing pencils which are made especially for the artist and draftsman cost but little extra and are vastly superior. Their lead is more highly refined, being comparatively free from gritty particles which, in cheaper pencils, often cause defective strokes or even scratches or tears in the paper. Also, the wood of drawing pencils is customarily of uniform grain (making them easier to sharpen) and better seasoned (which means that they are less likely to warp and so break the leads within). Still more important, these higher-priced pencils come in many accurately graded degrees of lead, so that by referring to the letters or figures prominently displayed at the end of each pencil, the experienced artist can tell exactly how soft or hard the lead is ; thus he can judge instantly whether or not it is suited to his immediate purpose.
Grading — Most manufacturers offer their pencils in 17 degrees, graduated from 6B, the softest and blackest, to 911, the hardest and least black, in this order : 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, 11B, F, H, 211, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H. 7H, 8H, 9H. Of these, artists prefer the softer points, the 3B and 2B being general favorites. The 6B and 5B are also well-liked but, due to their extreme softness, they wear down quickly, requiring almost constant resharpening. They are also in clined to break, and drawings made with them smudge badly if rubbed.
For many purposes, one may prefer such medium pencils as the HB, F, and H, and occasionally even as hard a lead as a 3H or 4H. On the whole, however, pencils harder than H are used almost entirely for instrumental drafting or for ultra-precise types of freehand work.
By performing such exercises as follow, one will soon learn exactly what kinds of line and tone he can make with each grade; doubtless he will then narrow his choice to six or eight pencils and, of these, most of his work will be accomplished with two or three. Sometimes a drawing (particularly a quick sketch) will be done entirely with a single pencil; again, it may prove desirable to use several. In the latter case, most of the work would probably be carried out with a soft or medium point, the harder ones being reserved for light, transparent tones and fine detail. The artist’s preference will vary, though, according to conditions, his choice often depending somewhat on the nature of his paper (as we shall later demonstrate), or even on the weather (to create a dark tone on damp paper requires a softer pencil than is needed when the paper is dry). The type of subject matter — and especially its textures — may also influence one’s choice, as may the technical treatment he has in mind. More about all of this in due time.
Makes of Pencils — As the products of different manufacturers vary somewhat, notably as to composition of the lead and as to standards of grading (neither of which is exactly uniform throughout the trade), it is perhaps just as well for the student to become fully familiar with one good make and then stick to it. (Some artists prefer one make and some another, though artists as a general rule have less definite predilections than do draftsmen.)
Among the best-known quality pencils are the following — the name of the manufacturer of each is given in parenthesis:
Ben Franklin (Blaisdell)
Castell (A. W. Faber)
Van Dyke (Eberhard Faber)
Mechanical or Refill Pencils — One of the great annoyances of the wood-cased lead pencil is that it demands constant whittling away of the wood. Many pencil users therefore prefer mechanical pencils; these should be of the kind made especially for the artist or draftsman. (One needs a separate pencil for each degree of lead.) Try them if you wish ; you will discover that they have both advantages and disadvantages.
Pencil Holders (Lengtheners) — It’s hard to work with stubby pencils and rather expensive to throw them away, so most artists (unless they choose mechanical pencils) like to keep on hand a half dozen or so holders (see illustration), one for each frequently used grade. Then, as a pencil gets shorter than half length, it can be inserted in a holder and utilized to the last inch.
Special Pencils — Pencils of wax, carbon, etc. — as well as colored pencils will be dealt with in Part II.
Paper — There are numerous papers on the market and, as artists seldom agree as to which kinds are best, it is impossible to give specific recommendations here. Your dealer can probably advise you as to the relative merits of the types he carries. He doubtless has paper both in loose sheets and in pads (blocks) ; also in sketchbook form. The common types of paper measure, in inches, approximately 81/2 x 11 (standard notebook size), 9 x 12, and 11 x 14, or 11 x 15. You can also buy paper in larger sheets and by the roll. Some like to purchase drawing paper of the Imperial size (22 x 30) and then halve or quarter it when smaller proportions are desired — a good plan.
The typical surface of drawing paper is somewhat rough, having a “tooth” to “bite” the pencil ; otherwise the pencil would not give off its graphite freely, nor would the paper retain it. For this reason, glazed paper is seldom desirable; such paper is also badly marred if any but the softest of erasers is used, or if it becomes dampened as by perspiration from the hands. Yet occasionally one finds glazed papers which are the exception, as they lend themselves very graciously to the making of crisp, snappy sketches. To achieve such results an extremely soft pencil is almost invariably required.
The slightly rough cardboard known as “kid-finished bristol” has much to recommend it—it is the author’s preference for many purposes
— while some of the better grades of the still heavier “illustration” boards also have their virtues, particularly for large work.
In recent years, tracing paper long a favorite among architects — has become very popular with pencil artists. Its outstanding characteristic is its transparency ; this makes it possible to rough out a subject on one sheet and then to render it on a second sheet laid over the first. Then, also, tracing paper often has an ideal surface for pencil drawing, possessing just the right amount of tooth. Such paper comes in pads, sheets, and by the roll. A pad measuring about 9 x 12 can prove useful in innumerable ways; frequently a still larger one is convenient.
Certain papers made for other purposes —bond typewriting paper, to name one — serve very well for drawing. In Chapter 51 we shall say something about tinted papers ; they can prove highly effective.
Drawing Board — Unless one draws in a sketchbook, on a pad, or on stiff cardboard, he will need a support for his paper. A wooden drawing board is excellent — one about 16 x 20 is large enough to accommodate most drawing paper and still leave room to support the hand. The smoother the board the better ; even tiny irregularities like thumbtack holes or the grain of the wood may transfer through to injure the appearance of a drawing — for a preventative, see below.
Thumbtacks; Masking Tape — One will require a few thumbtacks for fastening his paper to the drawing board. If he prefers not to mutilate his paper with thumbtack holes, the tacks may be placed just outside the edges, their heads overlapping the paper to hold it in position. Some artists substitute for tacks the draftsman’s type of masking tape, taping the drawing sparingly at the corners.
Unless one’s drawing paper is unusually thick, several extra sheets (or a sheet of smooth cardboard) should be placed beneath it, before it is secured to the board, so that any such defects as were just mentioned under “Drawing Board” will not transfer to the drawing as it develops.
Erasers — Do as little erasing as possible, not only because erasers tend to abrade the paper surface, making it difficult to draw over it again, but also for the reason that it is hard to erase a given area without smudging the surrounding tone. When erasing is necessary, kneaded rubber has a unique virtue ; it is possible to press a clean piece of it against the offending pencilling and “lift” many of the graphite particles without disturbing adjoining areas. If the tone is so firmly embedded that this pressure, several times repeated, doesn’t do the trick, use the kneaded rubber like any other eraser. Even when so employed, it is less likely than most erasers to create a messy effect. Kneaded rubber is also ideal for lightening the construction lines before the final pencilling is done, as it picks up its own erasings, leaving the paper relatively clean.
Occasionally it becomes necessary to remove lines or tones which will not yield to even brisk applications of the kneaded eraser ; under this condition, the typical red or green eraser will usually do a satisfactory job. On glazed paper, or other delicate surfaces, the abrasive action of kneaded rubber and most other erasers may prove too strong, marring the effect. For these, artgum or some other extremely soft eraser should be substituted.
Erasing Shield — A draftsman’s erasing shield (see illustration) is an exceptionally valuable gadget as it enables the artist to erase a limited area of almost any shape without injuring the near-by pencilling.
Dust Brush — An extremely soft brush is of great help in keeping the drawing free of erasings, dust, etc. The paper should always be dusted (or blown free of dirt) after any erasing, but with maximum care lest the drawing be smooched. This dusting is a wise precaution, as even tiny specks which look harmless can cause unsightly spots or streaks to develop as the pencil passes over them.
Knife – The proper pointing of wood-cased pencils is an art. The first requisite is a sharp knife or razor blade for cutting away the wood (the X-acto knife is good). Few pencil sharpeners will do this without simultaneously removing too much lead. The knife will also be useful for trimming paper, lifting thumbtacks, and cutting masking tape.
Sandpaper Pad — A block of sandpaper such as draftsmen use — preferably the type with a handle — is convenient for pointing the lead after the wood has been cut away. (For the use of this block, see page 22.) If such a block is not obtainable, a sheet of fine sandpaper or emery cloth (or even a rough sheet of drawing paper) may be substituted.
Fixatif— Work done in pencil — especially soft pencil — is so easily ruined if accidentally rubbed that it is generally sprayed on completion with a varnish-like liquid known as fixatif (fixative). Thus a thin protective coating is created. Fixatif can be purchased for a modest sum at any artist’s materials store.