Multi Media Materials: The Truth about Pencils and Erasers

If you are new to drawing, you may be wondering, “What’s with all the numbers and letters on my drawing pencils?” I am here to give you the truth about pencils, and while I am at it (and since it sounds so good) I’ll give you newbie drawers out there some eraser options to try out.

Let’s talk about pencils

Drawing pencils usually have a number and a letter on the end – this let’s you know the softness or hardness of the graphite in the pencil. The letter will either be a “B” or an “H”. The “B” stands for BLACK and the “H” stands for HARD. The number on a “B” pencils starts with HB then 2B, 4B, 6B, 7B, and 8B. HB is the equivalent of a #2 pencil – like the kind you needed to take tests in school, then the pencils get progressively softer as the numbers go up. 8B is the softest, therefore the blackest of the “B” pencils. The “H” pencils are opposite – the higher the number the harder the pencil. These pencils are usually for drafting since they make very thin, light lines.

Practice Makes Perfect

Start by testing out your pencils – see how they work when you press hard and when you ease up on the pressure.

This will help you to learn what they are for!

“B” pencils are great for shading, to practice this start with a value scale. (By the way: VALUE is the light and dark of a color or tone.)  A great way to get to know your drawing pencils is the make a small value scale with each pencil. The steps for creating this are:

1. create 5 boxes, at least 1/2″(or more if you have the time) Choose a pencil for your scale.

2. start with the box all the way to the right, shade this as dark as the pencil will go, press hard with the “B” pencil

3. Keep your pencil well sharpened and move to the next box, remember you can always go darker but it is difficult to lighten pencil up

4. apply the pencil in layers and build up to a darkness next to the darkest block

5. continue to shade the boxes until you reach the lightest block – this happens to be the most difficult box to shade since it is the lightest and takes the lightest touch.

Here’s the trick to well blended shading – it’s not a tortillion (a stump of paper used for blending pencil) or your finger – instead use a VERY sharp HB pencil to lightly move the pencil in your value scale around, this will create a smoother effect.

Oops! Now what?

There are a few choices when it comes to erasers.

Some artists like the eraser that lives on the end of a mechanical pencil – this is nice to precise erasing, since it is small.

This eraser is basically the same as something like the Staedler Mars white eraser. These are good quality, clean erasing and worth the money.

To remove dark pencil and charcoal try a kneaded eraser – these are squishy grey material that can be molded, made smaller and reworked to clean the pencil out – to a point – eventually then get “full” and cannot be reworked to clean – but in general they last quite a long time.

Where can I get a pencil set?

Michael’s Arts and Crafts, Staples, Dick Blick, Utrect, other office supply and art supply stores sell a full drawing pencil set, they also sell individual pencils just in case you have a pension for your 4B and seem to grind that down to a nub faster than the rest (like me!)

The erasers can also be found in the same locations.

Below are a few links to get you started:

Pencil Sets

Dick Blick – General’s Pencil Sets

Amazon – Staedtler Mars Pencil Set

Erasers

Dick Blick – Kneadable Eraser – Design Brand

Dick Blick – Kneadable Erasers Lyra Brand

Office Depot – White erasers

My last bit of advice is to take notes for yourself in your sketchbook, so you remember what pencils work best for which drawing.

Here is an example of some notes I jotted down when putting together this article.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comment section of this article!

WAIT! There’s more….

Tried out this material? Post your experiences in the comments section of this article for a chance to win tickets to

Sugarloaf Crafts Festival coming to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center

from November 5-7, 2010!

Just include your email address with your post to enter to win. The show will include unique  contemporary crafts and artwork from more than 300 artists working in ceramics, sculpture, glass, jewelry, fashion, furniture and home décor, fine art and photography. There will also be gourmet food for visitors to sample and purchase, live entertainment, and artist demonstrations. Something for everyone!

Have fun!

– MaryJo Rosania-Harvie is a high school art teacher & artist who simply loves art supplies!
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4 Responses to “Multi Media Materials: The Truth about Pencils and Erasers”

  1. Katie V

    I LOVELOVELOVE my 9H pencil for signing prints…crisp light line on cotton rag paper….yum! And keep a TUFF STUFF eraser pencil in my purse at all times. (same white eraser as the big whites, just pointy!)

  2. MaryJo Rosania-Harvie

    Nice! I actually love a mechanical HB – they are so versatile.

  3. tremundo

    Great article and tutorial. You included so many great tips, thank you!

  4. Ruth

    Editors Note: UPDATE! The tickets have been given away!

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