A year ago, I started a series of posts about drawing utensils I use. The first one revolved around self-contained pens called Creation of a Line - Part 1. For this installment, I will center around the pencil. While the last post got pretty indepth with some of the pens, this one is not as much. When it comes to pencils, people are pretty drawn (pun intended) to the materials they have gotten used to. While there is great diversity in pencils, it seems that artists still gravitate to the more popular ones. Also, I am a bit more particular with pens over pencils because I use pens so much for my final work whereas my pencils are only used for roughing out ideas.
That being said, the pencil is pretty much where all our initial ideas gets created and it ranks high on the 'most important stuff I need as an artist' list. So while I may not care as much as what pencils I use, I do have some standards. I have my favorite tools that I will continue to buy over and over again because they work for me but may not be considered the 'absolute correct' graphite materials to do the job. I wing it. Life's too short.
The photos above are from an antique lingerie chest I bought at an auction the year I moved to Boston. I thought it was perfect to house different art materials and the top drawer contains all my pencils. As you can see, I have a lot of other odd pencils and other products that I will eventually try out. For now I will just highlight the few pencils I use constantly.
This post will contain both new materials but also some what I consider, some pretty vintage stuff. That ArtBin was bought in '89.
Dare I say, that there are some materials in this case that is from that era also. As an artist builds up their tools over the years, some of the older stuff ends up getting used less frequently. The materials in this case are used fairly often either when I am doing some black and white work with inks and charcoal but mainly I use this stuff when I am going out to do some figure drawing.
Just as an aside before I get into the pencils, these nibs probably should've been featured in the last post because it was all about ink pens. They are usually housed with my dry materials so I'll just do a brief section here.
Much of my black and white ink with compressed charcoal stuff like the Me + the Devil series and other similar work are done using these nibs and India Ink. These nibs and handles look rusted, beat up and look like hell but they still work fine and I still use them regularly. Again, mid-to-late 80's materials.
The self-contained pens are great, especially for detail work but when I want to leave the lines up to chance with some texture, I'll use these nibs. It's a nice treat to have lines that vary and not have much control over. It's like being at the mercy of the materials. I think that's why I am not so precious about the materials and what specific stuff to use for specific tasks.
Staedtler Mars Lumograph 4H
The pencil here represents my oldest pencil that I still use on EVERY SINGLE JOB I've done since 1989. It is the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 4H pencil.
I use this pencil to transfer the sketch to the board. That is all its used for. Nothing else. The sketch is usually a printout scaled to the size which is then taped down onto the board. In between the sketch and the board is graphite paper used to transfer. The hard tip that I keep pretty sharp makes a nice transfer line.
Even I am surprised this pencil has lasted over 20 years. The lead is hard enough to stab someone and still keep a good point and never breaks. At least, I don't recall the point EVER breaking off and I usually press pretty firmly when transferring.
This is one of those drawing utensils that I will feel a bit bad replacing if I ever have to.
Dixon Ticonderoga 2B
Ahhh...the blue-collar pencil of the masses. The Dixon Ticonderoga 2B pencil "World's Best Pencil".
I've discovered that this pencil, while rough around the edges gives me a nice soft and pretty dark and expressive line. Sure, it would certainly cause some major pains in the classroom from very particular teachers. I envision classically trained art teachers around the world snatching these pencils from art students, pulling the eraser heads off, 'thumbing' off the tip, snapping the pencil in half and throwing it across the room all the while insulting the student's mother for daring to bring such peasant low grade material into the classroom.
While teachers are having a heart attack over a pencil, I buy boxes of these suckers for a couple of bucks and have continued using them for years. I go through these very quickly - probably one a week or two. I found that I didn't need to buy the high end stuff for sketch work. Maybe if my technique lent itself to using those materials, I would use them but it's just not necessary for me.
As you can see from the first couple of pictures in my art-lingerie chest, I do have some specialty pencils still in their cases. I had this notion of actually starting to collect pencils. Hard to find ones, custom pencils, limited edition pencils, that sort of thing. It's sort of silly but I've always been a collector. From my early days of collecting rare vinyl, to baseball cards, to comics - why not pencils? Maybe eventually I'll get around to being more serious about it.
Anyway, the Ticonderoga is a fine utilitarian pencil and I am particular fond of using the Tri-Write version they released. It fits in my fingers very comfortably compared to the regular hexogonal shape. The lead is soft and you can get a nice thick and thin line if you grind it down for a few seconds on a rough piece of paper. They are at times a pain in the ass to sharpen and the lead snaps more times than I would like but I have a heavy hand so I wouldn't really totally blame the pencil.
Eberhard Faber Ebony 6325
I think I first discovered this pencil in high school. It's such a wonderfully soft, dark pencil. I would dare to say it sort of like using the pencil version of conti crayon. Still not as dark as conti but it gets near there.
I always have Ebony's around when I want to get a thick graphite looking line in my work. Get a flat edge on the tip and some rough paper and you are good to go.
Sometimes when I am having a quiet weekend, I'll just grab one of the Ebony's and start getting into the zen of values and blending. This cowboy-experiment-thing I did back in '04. I was looking at Seurat often back then and was intrigued by his black and white work and that misty otherworldly quality he had.
Stad K'Zool Wood Pencil Sharpener
In the beginning of the first Creation of a Line post I discussed pencil sharpeners for the studio, here is a travel pencil sharpener that I highly recommend. It makes a nice point, has a pencil shavings catch-area and if you notice in the photo, it has a dial to set what type of point you want on the pencil. There are five settings that I show below. Also, if your tip breaks off in the sharpener for some reason and you have a hard time getting it out - we all know that pain - the center of the dial is actually a button! Press it in and it pops the lead tip right out! Awesome! This sharpener is really a nice little piece of art itself.
Depending upon the quality of line you like to work with, you can change the setting. I am either on the sharpest or the second-to-most-sharpest settings for a thicker line. As you can see below, you can really get a hammered tip on that pencil.
I needed a new travel sharpener because the blade in my old one was pretty well done with - it chewed the hell out of my pencils and started breaking the tips pretty consistently. I found this sharpener at JetPens and gave it a shot. The blade is super sharp, makes a nice razor point and it sort of gives way when the pencil is at the right sharpness so it doesn't over sharpen which is kind of neat.
I hope you enjoyed this installment. If any of you have some experiences with these materials or wish to add comments about items you use, I would love to read up on it.