Friday, July 14, 2017

Lesson 1: Get to Know Your Pencils

Greetings! I've had a lot of inquiries about my drawing classes lately and my usual procedure is to email a registration link and list of supplies. Then I would have students complete certain exercises upon first joining the group. However, I've found that at least the first two exercises can definitely be attempted without me around, in the comfort of your own home. So I've written them out and will share them here and in my next post.

First off, here's the list of supplies:



  • 9x12" sketch pad - soft cover, spiral bound (not drawing pad)
  • Tombow Mono Pro set of 12 drawing pencils (Derwent or Faber-Castell are also acceptable)
  • Tombow Mono Zero eraser stick (round, rectangular, or both)
  • Old, clean paintbrush (any size/shape) or eraser/duster brush - for wiping away eraser dust
  • Artist's white tape (1/2" wide)
  • Kneaded eraser
  • White plastic eraser
  • 18” metal ruler
  • Sharpener
  • Drawing board
  • Skewer, plumb line, or slim stick for measuring angles & proportions
  • Notebook (in case you want to take notes)

*Don't forget a bag or backpack to keep everything together!

**A note about brands: I prefer Canson paper to Strathmore. This is a personal preference, but I find that the "tooth" (texture) of Strathmore paper is harder to work with than Canson's. As far as pencils go, there are several reputable, trusted brands, three of which I listed above. Whatever you choose, I strongly recommend you stay away from store brands. Michael's Arts & Crafts' store brand is Artist's Loft. Jerry's Artarama's store brand pencils are by Raffine. I have several students who use Faber-Castell because that's what our local store carries, but it costs more than Tombow and I find it doesn't offer quite as broad a range of value - value as in lightness to darkness. Rulers and sharpeners can be any kind or brand, but the ones I use most are an 18" metal ruler with cork backing, a hard, clear plastic 12" T-square ruler, and a KUM long point pencil sharpener. That sharpener has two openings: the first shaves the wood casing and exposes more lead; the second sharpens the lead into a longer point. To be honest, I don't even use the rulers very often since most of what I do is organic and doesn't involve straight lines. That being said, it's still good to keep them on hand.

Also, keep in mind this list doesn't include what you'll need for working in charcoal. I'll get to that at another time.

First Exercise: Pencil Meet & Greet

The first thing I want you to do is get familiar with your materials. Whatever brand pencils you choose, you should have a range of H's and B's, plus an HB and maybe an F. My set includes 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B. My brand is Tombow, and different sets may vary slightly but whatever is in your set, try to keep them in this basic order: high to low H's, F, HB, low to high B's.

H pencils are a harder lead (H for "hard") and make lighter marks. B pencils are a softer lead and make darker, bolder marks (B for "bold"). I have no idea why they're labeled H or B, but "hard" and "bold" is how I keep them straight in my head. The F is more or less like an H, so I don't really know why it's included. The HB is equivalent to a regular #2 pencil like you use in school. Position your sketchbook horizontally for these exercises.

H-B_Pencils2017.jpg

Take a look at the image above. I colored a patch using as much pressure as I can apply, then gradually getting as light as I can possibly go - in fact, just use the weight of the pencil for the last few strokes. Do this for each pencil and label which pencil you've used for each patch. Make them about an inch wide, and at least an inch long, but you can do 2" long if that's easier. Work slowly and try to make the gradation as even as possible from dark to light. Take your time, feel the differences between your pencils, and make a mental note of how they overlap each other in what they can do. By this I mean there's hardly any difference between a 4H and a 3H, but a more distinct difference between a 4H and an H. So you can switch between pencils and get just about the same effect. There's no hard rule about which pencil you use but there are definitely a range of pencils that will work better than another range, depending on what you're drawing.

*Be sure not to scribble quickly. Notice that I am coloring horizontally, left to right, and how each stroke touches the one above and the one below for even coverage. Make sure you don't color your swatches so quickly that you have gaps throughout, and practice creating an even transition from dark to light. You may need to do this exercise more than once to achieve smooth transitions.