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Pen and Pencil Drawing Techniques
By Harry Borgman
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1989 Harry Borgman
All rights reserved.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
IF YOU ARE SERIOUS about drawing, you will need to know about the many possibilities available in this medium. One way to gain more skill in your drawing, so that you can move from the simple to the complex, is to learn about your drawing tools and how to handle them. This chapter will tell you what the best materials are and how to use them. Just knowing your tools can give you a measure of confidence, which will reflect itself in your work.
Fortunately for artists and art students, there are a great variety of drawing pencils available, as well as many excellent paper surfaces to work on.
Graphite Pencils. The traditional basic drawing tool—the graphite pencil—is made of compressed graphite that is encased in cedarwood. It is available in many different grades, ranging from very hard to very soft. The order of grading is 9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, and 6B. The 9H lead is the hardest grade, and the 6B is the softest. Personally I prefer using the HB grade for general work and often use the H and 2H grades as well. Experiment with a few of the different grades to see which you prefer. Generally speaking, the harder grades work better on smooth, hard-surface paper, and the softer grades work better on textured paper.
With regard to lead grades, the harder the lead, the lighter the line; the softer the lead, the darker the line. The harder grades—those above 2H are usually used for drafting or for mechanical drawing; the softer grades are used for general drawing. For sketching, the very soft grades—2B through 6B—are best; the hard 2H to B grades are better for meticulous renderings.
Many fine brands of graphite pencils are available, and you will have to try a few of them to see which you prefer. Some brands I have found to be excellent are Berol Eagle turquoise, Koh-I-Noor, Mars Lumograph, and Venus. Some graphite pencils especially suited for sketching have very broad, flat leads for drawing thick lines. These sketching pencils usually come in grades of 2B, 4B, and 6B. The Ebony pencil, which has a large diameter and a very black lead, is also quite good.
Charcoal and Carbon Pencils. There are many types of charcoal and carbon pencils on the market. A good brand is General Charcoal. It is a deep black and comes in grades of HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, and in white. Wolff carbon pencils are also quite good, and they come in grades of HH, H, HB, B, BB, and BBB, which is the softest.
Wax-Type Pencils. One of my favorite drawing pencils is the Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Negro pencil. It has a wax-type lead that is jet black, and it is available in five degrees of hardness. Many other wax-type pencils are on the market; some have very fine leads, whereas others have very soft, thick leads.
I have used Berol Prismacolor pencils for many years and have found them to be uniform in color and lead consistency. Their leads are smooth, thick, and strong enough to sharpen to a fine point. Their color range is wide, comprising sixty colors. Prismacolor pencils can be purchased singly or in sets of 12, 24, 36, 48, or 60 colors. These pencils can also be used in conjunction with other mediums, such as markers, dyes, watercolors, and other painting mediums. They can be blended or smudged with a paper stump dampened with Bestine, a rubber-cement solvent.
China Marking Pencils. These pencils are available in several colors, including white, black, brown, red, blue, green, yellow, and orange. Stabilo, another wax-type pencil, is also available in eight colors.
Water-Soluble Pencils. Another interesting pencil is the Caran D'Ache water-soluble pencil. You can wash clear water over the drawn lines with a brush and dissolve the tones to create a pencil painting. You can also use Caran D'Ache pencils without dissolving the tones. This brand offers forty brilliant colors, whose strong leads can be sharpened to a fine point. Other types of water-soluble pencils are also available.
Pastels. These come in pencil form and are a very interesting medium to work with. They can be blended easily with your fingers or a paper stump and are especially suitable for soft effects. The brand I use is Carb-Othello, which is available in sixty colors, with matching pastel chalks that can be used for covering large areas. These pencils sharpen well for detailed work and have a large-diameter lead that can be used to draw broad strokes.
Conté Crayon. Conté crayons, which are very good for sketching, come in black, white, sepia, and sanguin. A pencil form of the crayons is also available in three grades of hardness.
Miscellaneous. Another good sketching tool is the graphite stick, which is available in many grades and in a round or square shape. There are all kinds of lead holders and mechanical-type pencils you may want to try. If you prefer an even line when drawing, try using a mechanical pencil with a fine lead. Many grades of replacement lead for holders are available in most art supply stores. Another great sketching tool is the charcoal stick, which also comes in several grades of hardness.
Masking Tape. You can use masking tape to stick your drawing paper to a drawing surface.
Sharpening Pencil with Knife. The razor knife is the handiest way to sharpen a pencil. The wood can be carefully cut away from the lead with the sharp edge of the blade. I prefer a long lead when drawing so I don 't have to resharpen so frequently; this is the best method for obtaining one. I must caution you again: These knives are very sharp and you must be careful when using them. A pencil sharpener is not advisable because the resulting exposed lead is too short.
Sharpening Pencil with Sanding Block. After the wood has been carefully cut away with a blade, the lead can be pointed by using a sanding block or pad. The lead can be shaped to a fine point, a chisel point, a blunt point, a rounded point, or in any number of other ways, depending on which type of line you wish to produce when drawing. Experiment with different-shaped leads to see the various kinds of lines that can be produced.
X-Acto Knife. Mechanical or hand-held pencil sharp eners are not the best tools to use for sharpening pencils. The leads of pencils sharpened this way are usually too short and too dull. The X-Acto knife method works best: You cut away the wood surrounding the lead and then shape the lead with a sandpaper block. The harder grades of pencils can be sharpened to a long point because the lead is stronger, but be careful with the softer grades, which break rather easily. By using this method of sharpening pencils, you have the advantage of being able to shape the point any way you wish, depending on the effects you want to achieve when drawing. Be careful, however, not to sharpen the wrong end of the pencil, or you'll cut away the number identifying the lead grade.
Charcoal pencils can easily be sharpened with an X-Acto knife, then shaped with a sanding block. Because charcoal and carbon leads are thicker than graphite, they can take on more shapes. The same holds true for pastel pencils—but be very careful when shaping these points because they are soft and tend to break easily. Graphite sticks and Conté crayons can be sharpened to a variety of forms with the sanding block. You can draw with the different edges of these sticks and achieve very distinctive results.
Erasers. There are many types of erasers available, but the most useful is the kneaded rubber type. This is a soft, pliable eraser that can be shaped to a point for picking out highlights or erasing in tight spots. Artgum erasers are safe and efficient for cleaning drawings. Of the several vinyl-type erasers that are quite useful, Magic Rub, Edding R-20, and Mars-Plastic are three good brands. Pink Pearl erasers, which are soft and relatively smudge free, are good for all-around use. Electric erasers are also available, but they are generally used for tougher erasing jobs, which you might encounter when doing India-ink drawings. An erasing shield is a handy item, which can be used to confine the area you're erasing.
Sandpaper Block. This is essential for shaping your pencil leads after you have cut away the wood with an X-Acto knife. The sanding block can be used on all types of pencils and on graphite sticks and Conté crayons; experiment with it. Leads can be shaped to a very sharp point or to a blunt point. An interesting shape is the chisel point, which can make very fine or very thick lines. As the sandpaper becomes saturated with graphite, just tear off the top sheet and expose a fresh one.
Fixatives. You will want to protect your pencil drawings from smearing or smudging. Fixatives are available in spray cans or in bottles for use with an atomizer. I recommend the spray fixative, which is available in two types—glossy or nonglossy. The nonglossy kind, with its matte finish, is the best to use for pencil drawings.
Many drawing papers and illustration boards can be used for pencil drawings. The following are a few of the basic types most suitable for this medium.
Tracing Paper. This is a general all-purpose paper with a fine transparent surface. Usually tracing papers are used for preliminary sketches and for multiple drawings of sketches the artist wants to improve upon. Available in pads ranging in size from 9" × 12" (22.8 × 30.4 cm) to 24" × 36" (61 × 91.4 cm), tracing paper also comes in rolls of varying widths and lengths.
Layout and Visualizing Paper. Layout papers are excellent, especially those that are top quality. This type of paper has a velvety smooth surface and is semitransparent, making it ideal for all pencils. It is available in the same pad sizes as tracing paper.
Newsprint. This paper comes in either a smooth or a textured surface. It is suitable for doing lots of quick sketches in charcoal and is perfect for use in a life-drawing class. It is available in pads ranging in size from 12" × 18" (30.5 × 45.7 cm) to 24" × 36" (61 × 91.4 cm).
Hot- and Cold-Pressed Bristol Board. Hot-pressed board, which is also called plate-finish or high-finish bristol, has a smooth, hard surface. It is usually used for India-ink drawings but is excellent also for pencil drawings. Cold-pressed board is a versatile paper because its slight surface texture is well suited for many mediums, including pencil. I generally use the Strathmore brand, which is available in both the high finish and the cold-pressed. This fine-quality paper comes in various thicknesses, from 2-ply to 5-ply, which is the heaviest. Both surfaces are also available in heavier illustration board, which you may prefer. Strathmore bristol papers are 23" × 29" (58.4 × 73.7 cm).
Another fine brand of bristol board is Schoeller. I prefer this brand for India-ink drawings because its surface seems to be more durable—an important point to remember is you have to make corrections with a fiberglass eraser. Also available is a rough, coarsely textured paper that can be used for certain types of pencil drawings, though it is more suited to watercolor.
Watercolor Papers. Other interesting paper surfaces on which to work are watercolor papers, also available in hot-pressed, cold-pressed, or rough surfaces. Watercolor paper can be purchased in separate sheets or in blocks of twenty-five sheets. The watercolor blocks range in size from 9" × 12" (22.8 × 30.5 cm) to 18" × 24" (45.7 × 61 cm).
Charcoal Papers. These are available in many different colors in a sheet size of 19" × 25" (48.3 × 63.5 cm). They can also be purchased bound in pads of assorted colors as well as in white. These pads range in size from 9" × 12" (22.8 × 30.5 cm) to 18" × 24" (45.7 × 61 cm).
Common Drawing Paper. The most frequently used paper for drawing is common drawing paper, which has a standard medium surface texture. The British call this cartridge paper. This paper is quite versatile; it can be used with pencil, pen, brush, and even for wash tones. The slight surface texture is excellent for pencil drawings and fine enough for use with pens, since they will not snag the surface. For this illustration, I used a 4B graphite pencil to draw a portrait of a young woman. Notice how well the pencil works on this surface, and although there is no blending on this particular drawing, it certainly is possible on this paper There is a tonal variation in the lines drawn: The ones on the hair are lighter than those used for the outlining. This was accomplisbed by using different pressure on the pencil while drawing—the lighter the pressure, the lighter the drawn lines. If you practice drawing lines of various values, you will develop a great deal of control in the use of the pencil.
Smooth Paper. One of my favorite surfaces for graphite pencil drawing is smooth paper. The graphite pencil is especially compatible with the smooth surface because a full range of tones—from very black to very light subtle grays—are possible. Wax pencils can also be used successfully on smooth paper. But chalk or charcoal pencils are not suitable; the leads just don't respond to a surface without texture. Notice that the lines in this drawing do not appear to be as rough as those on the previous drawing. This is because of the lack of paper surface texture. This paper cannot be equaled for doing highly detailed drawings with subtly rendered gray tones. When this paper is used, even the quality of the lines is different from those drawn on other papers. When you compare this drawing with the previous one, notice that the lines appear more crisp because of the lack of surface texture. This results from the ease with which the pencil moves across the smooth surface, unobstructed by textures.
Rough Paper. The same drawing takes on a completely different character when drawn on a heavily textured surface such as watercolor paper. Notice how the lines themselves take on a texture and that even the darker tones on the hair and the details, such as the eye, are not solid black but are broken up by the roughness of the paper surface. Very interesting drawings can be done on rough-surfaced papers, but creating solid black tones or lines requires that the artist bear down quite heavily on the pencil while drawing. Pencil leads tend to wear down rapidly on this type of surface, but the softer grades, such as the 4B used here, are more compatible for use on rough papers than the harder grades. Rough papers have a more delicate surface, and harder leads may dig into the paper. The finer lines, drawn with a sharpened pencil, are quite dark, whereas those drawn with a duller, broad point are heavily textured, which adds interest to the drawing.
Charcoal Paper. Standard charcoal paper is a very popular paper surface; it has a ribbed texture and is known as Ingres in Europe. This paper, which has a mechanical, even surface texture, is a very fine paper for drawing with graphite, charcoal, chalk, or even wax pencils. A drawing done on this paper will tend to have a texture throughout that does not detract but rather enhances the drawing. Most pencils respond very well to this surface; charcoal sticks can also be used with excellent results. Charcoal paper is a delight to draw on and is a favorite of many artists the world over. On this drawing you can clearly see the overall textural effect that occurs when working on this surface.
This drawing done with a 2B graphite pencil demonstrates the variety of linear and tonal qualities possible with a graphite pencil. In the sky portion, a series of lines creates a gray tone that was smoothed out with a rolled paper stump. The zigzag lines used in the trees to simulate foliage were also rubbed with a paper stump to create a tone. You can experiment with different grades of pencils to see the various effects possible by rubbing the lines with a paper stump. You can also dampen the stump with Bestine, a rubber cement solvent that dissolves graphite to create interesting tonal effects.
Excerpted from Pen and Pencil Drawing Techniques by Harry Borgman. Copyright © 1989 Harry Borgman. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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