Pencils are probably the tool that I use most often. There are a lot of factors that go into what makes a pencil worth using or the best tool for the job. First of all, every pencil can be a sharp pencil. That’s not the question. Let’s try questions like: how does it feel in my hand? Where can I hold it to get the marks that I’m interested in? How does the weight affect my density in value? Can it work from many angles? Many others briskly work their way through my mind as I’m trying one out and refining the vocabulary of marks and strokes to define depth and shape.
Some examples of works created with just pencil:
As you’re reading through this exploration, feel free to use the comment section to post any questions that arise! All that said, let’s look at some of my favorite tools that I’ve curated over the years allowing me to draw as I do:
Papermate ProTouch II .5mm ( Discontinued… ) Rated 12 out of 10
By far my favorite pencil of all time! Originally purchase for $11.00 at Utrecht Art Supplies. I am not sure how and why, but this has become a Holy Grail of sorts based on the research that I’ve done with others who prefer it and how challenging it is to find. You may find a place that has one. It may be cheap. Alas, it is unavailable no matter what the website says. Luckily, because I liked them so much, it inspired my wife to get some. She had a couple sitting around from her education in architecture which, when I found them, were annexed with a hungry fervor.
The Barrel near the end is knurled (a ridged edge around forming a grip), it has a hearty weight to it overall but my favorite subtlety is the retractable eraser! You can fit a good inch or so in the retractable end. The only mechanical pencil that has an eraser that I use, otherwise its just kneaded rubber for me ;)
Pilot S20 .3mm, .5mm (MSRP $40.00, Amazon $21.00) Rated 9 out of 10
Natural Wooden Barrel, balanced weight, Japanese. Where it narrows, it is great for gripping in the front of the pencil or if you’re interested in a lighter stroke, the back. This is one of my more recent finds. I’ve been hunting for a replacement for the ProTouch II since I found out it was discontinued. Thus far, this is the best overall replacement I’ve found! Also available in a red wood finish. Great for light work and flexible for low tolerance situations. Trying to use as my main tool.
Prismacolor Verithin Poppy Red 744 (MSRP $1.15, Blick $.95 each) Rated 9 out of 10
The foundation of any great drawing is the underdrawing. Like a fancy painting (or like most paintings to be more precise) this color creates a nice warm layer to draw over. Often the base for many of my two-tone images: complete poppy red drawing with details made from graphite leads. Most of my Smarts (small + arts) were two color if you’re interested in an example. Modestly priced ( cheap ), great for mixing with other colors, also nice for a light underdrawing foundation for paintings with gouache or watercolor.
Other Standard Wooden Drawing Pencil, B3 (Various Prices depending on Brand) Rated 8 out of 10
Great option in a variety of hardnesses so you can tailor the pencil to the task. Tip can be as fine or dull as you’d like. Makes filling larger areas a pleasure. A classic.
rOtring 800 Retractable Mechanical Pencil, .5mm (MSRP $74.00, Amazon $40.28) Rated 7 out of 10
Non-slip metal knurled grip. Retractable barrel to protect the tip through simple twist action at the back of the pencil. Balanced weight for holding at any point along the barrel.
I want to like this pencil. I try to use it often. The rigid mechanical metal hexagonal pencil with heft keeps my leg from getting stabbed with the retractable tip! But it’s over engineered. My soft images are challenged philosophically by the cold tool. It will remain a staple but a challenging staple at that…
from Top: Pro Touch II, Pilot S20 Dark Brown, Verithin Poppy Red 744, A Standard “B” Drawing Pencil from Faber-Castell, rOtring 800 (yes the “O” is supposed to be that way ;)