I’ve been asked a few times recently about my materials and the techniques I use for my pencil drawings. I thought I’d break it down into a couple of short posts so you don’t have to wade through to find the information you are looking for. I’ll also keep it nice and brief, then you can message with questions and I can expand on any elements. Sound ok?
I’ve been more or less obsessed with pencil drawing since I rediscovered my love of drawing while doing night classes at Edinburgh College of Art. My degree isn’t in art. I actually have a degree in Divinity. After I graduated I took a trip to Mexico, spent all my money, came back to Scotland and got a job at the National Library. I started taking night classes in portraiture and drawing with the council and at the college. I was amazed at the ferocity with which my drawing-love returned. I thought about it all the time and then used all my spare time practicing (only fair to give a shout out to my flatmate Sarah who put up with some extraordinarily messy projects in the living room).
I do have love for other materials – biro, watercolour and oil pastels in particular – but something about drawing with a pencil got me hooked and I’ve never stopped. I wonder if one day I’ll be satisfied and move on. Maybe, maybe not. It’s almost 9 years since I quit the library job to draw full time and the love is still big.
I’ve tried lots of different pencils and papers. All of them great for achieving different effects. But I’ve found a favourite pencil and a favourite surface that work best for my particular style.
I build my drawings using thousands of little marks built up on top of each other – basically hatching and cross-hatching (more on that in the next post on techniques). It is almost etching-like. For this I prefer a pencil with a reasonably hard, fine lead. By far the best pencil I’ve found is the Pentel Sharplet 2.0 with a 0.5 HB lead. I buy them in bulk (here’s a link to the listing I buy on Amazon – you can definitely get them in good stationers, too, if you are lucky enough to live near one). They are mechanical pencils with a handy wee rubber on the end. You don’t even need to sharpen them! Delightful. I keep a few in every bag and every room so I’m never without. You can buy lead refills, too.
Pencil is a wonderfully accessible medium. Anyone can find one quickly when they need to (a bit like that fact about how you are never more than 6ft from a rat). It is a very versatile medium that allows you to be both expressive and precise. There’s very little fuss with pencil – no prep time, you don’t have to wait for it to dry, there’s no clear up operation AND you can even rub it out. Simple and straightforward.
My preference is to draw on as smooth a surface as possible. I usually choose a heavy white board – most often mount board or backing boards used in picture framing. This weight of board gives me a bit of stability and is pretty durable to my fairly careless ways (I might have once set an almost-finished drawing down in a puddle of mango chutney and it was absolutely fine). It is also heavy enough to withstand some watercolour. I pick up off-cuts from framers or buy huge A1 sheets and divide them up.
The final material I need to create my drawings is watercolour paint. I am definitely NOT a painter. I purely use the watercolour to add colour. All the work on the form and structure of the drawing is done in pencil. I then add a quick wash on top (always slightly nerve-wracking when you have spent 30 hours on the pencil work!). Therefore, absolutely any watercolours will do! I’m not too fussy about the brushes either. Something medium-ish and a nice shape.
And there you have it, my tool kit for drawing.
Watch out for a post on techniques coming soon!