Hear me read the Introduction to this post (also written below):
I have a personal relationship with my art materials. I've got many longtime trusted friends, and I’ve met a few new kids on the block with whom I’ve been hanging out. Oh, the stories I could tell!
It's through my art media that the ideas in my head find their way into the physical world. They’re interpreters, conduits, and playmates of my ideas. Sometimes they have a mind of their own and we struggle a bit. Sometimes they seem to know what to say before I know myself, which is cool. At other times, they become the perfect vehicle of the imagined, which feels miraculous.
The best gifts of my childhood were always a fresh pad of paper, pencils, and occasionally a brand new box of crayons. I could spend hours each day outdoors under a tree, on my front porch, or on the living room couch with paper on my lap and a pencil in my hand. Hours. With my two beloved friends—pencil and paper.
So today I want to talk about pencils I have loved. What's the point? (pun intended) You could make art for a lifetime with nothing other than pencil, paper, eraser, and sharpener. The possibilities are infinite.
The native mark of a pencil is a line. Young children make marks before they draw ‘things.’ And the exploratory, kinetic marks they make are delightful.
Line has varied qualities and emotions: light, dark, thick, thin, bold, delicate, angry, joyous, tentative, nervous, searching, forceful, tender. Just like a friend can have many moods, a pencil can contain many kinds of lines. There is character in the marks alone, even when not in ‘a picture.’ So don’t dismiss the beauty of scribbles and marks.
When you understand this, and then apply these qualities to an idea or an image, you begin an adventure. The technical side of my teaching is about the inherent capacity of a medium and how it can become an extension of one’s inspirations and intentions. Or you can think of it as appreciating your good friends’ unique gifts.
So here are five pencils I have loved:
1. #2 Pencil with Eraser
You just can’t go wrong with this guy--a solid, dependable work horse with a range from pale to dark gray. But press too hard and the marks get shiny, which go beyond that with which the #2 is comfortable. It’s great to have the eraser on the end; but make sure it’s not old and hard or you’ll get pink streaks on your paper. When I was a kid, I invented a way to create a darker, grittier mark with my pencil. I erased on the paper before I started drawing, and the roughness altered the line quality. Years later I would learn that surfaces can have a varied “tooth” and therefore would invite different mark qualities. The down side of this pencil is that it needs a pencil sharpener. So don't forget to have one handy for a sharp, crisp, thin line.
2. #2 Mechanical Pencil
I love my all-purpose yellow plastic mechanical pencil. It comes with a super soft eraser, gives a respectable range of values (degrees of light to dark tones), and does not break easily when you press down. I buy them by the pack full. If you come to my house or studio, you’ll probably find them all over the place, so I can capture an idea before it flies away. I like to keep these pencils handy with bits of paper for sketching, for doodling, and for writing. It’s one of my favorite pencils for drawing. I also use it to do light pencil drawings in preparation for painting. It does not need a sharpener, which is a big plus when traveling. But you can make the point even sharper by rubbing it on a piece of paper, honing the point.
3. Refillable Mechanical Pencil and Interchangeable Graphite Leads
This was my BFF in art school--a metal graphite lead holder for which you can buy graphite leads with all degrees of softness. (The refillable 'lead' is graphite, not lead; lead is toxic). The “H” leads are hard. The “B” leads are soft. The higher the number, the higher the degree of that capacity. For example, a 6B is softer and will get darker that a 2B, while the 2B can make a more delicate line. A 5H is harder than a 2H, and it will make an extremely thin, pale mark.
For this kind of pencil you need to have a graphite lead pointer. It’s got an opening just big enough for the lead and will produce a super sharp point. Plus, no wood shavings everywhere. I like the kind of lead pointer that will collect the fine lead shavings, or you can use a simple lead pointer over a basket or a little container to collect the shavings.
4. Ebony Pencil
When you need rich, dark tones, the Ebony pencil delivers. Its capacity for deep values goes well beyond the #2 pencil. It also can more easily make thicker lines because the lead is wider. Heavier and more substantial than the #2, it’s also an all-purpose work horse. Try drawing using using both a #2 pencil and Ebony on the same page for a wide value range from light to dark. It smudges more easily if you drag your hand across your drawing, so put a small piece of paper on top of your art under your hand if you rest your hand on the page when you draw. It requires a sharpener with a larger hole to accommodate the barrel of the pencil, so here’s where a dual-size sharpener is smart if you want to also use a #2.
5. Black Prismacolor Colored Pencil
I adore this pencil. Its mark is softer and creamier than graphite. Its waxier composition allows for soft grays and blackest blacks without the annoying shininess of the #2 graphite pencils or Ebony pencil.
So when you need blackest black, this is your buddy.
Try not to drop this pencil on a hard floor, or the lead may break inside. But this is true of all pencils. It’s aggravating when you try to sharpen a pencil and the lead keeps breaking off. Should a bloom, or slight graying of the black occur over time on a thickly-colored area of a drawing, a light rub with a soft tissue will restore it to rich black.
I also love using colored pencils of all colors, but that’s another story. Also another story is different ways of sharpening a pencil. Ah, as they say---art is long and life is short.
How to make drawings with pencils is yet another grand, fantastic story.
For that, perhaps we can gather around the virtual campfire and tell tales of the many ways to bring these beloved friends to life on the page.
More about that coming soon!