Drawing & Painting blog
BEST ARTIST’S PENCILS FOR SKETCHING
When buying pencils for drawing and sketching, it really is worth buying good quality pencils from a specialist art suppliers. Stay away from what are known as ‘student grade’ pencils as the quality won’t be very good compared to professional grade pencils. Good art materials really will make a big difference to the quality of work you can produce. Here is my (completely impartial) review of my favourite brands.
There are two key things I look for in a drawing pencil. Firstly the lead should be strong and well-enough secured in its casing so that it doesn’t constantly break. Buying cheaper pencils will usually be a false economy because you’ll soon sharpen them away to nothing if they break frequently!
Secondly, the graphite in the pencil leads should be well mixed with the ‘binder’ so that the pencils don’t scratch your paper when you draw with them. You will often find that a cheap pencil suddenly stops making a mark if you hit a bit of the clay binder which hasn’t been well processed with the graphite. The best pencil ranges will be well-mixed to give a smooth and consistent feel to the lead.
DERWENT ‘GRAPHIC’ PENCILS
These are an excellent brand of pencils from the Derwent, a very old British company who specialise in art pencils and pencil accessories. Derwent Graphic pencils come in an extremely wide range of grades from 9H (extremely light, and hard) all the way through to 9B (very soft, and dark). You can find an explanation of the different pencil grades in this article.
Derwent and Faber-Castell make the most reliable pencils in my experience, producing strong leads even in the softer grades which rarely break, sharpen well and are never scratchy. Derwent’s ‘leads’ (they are really made of graphite of course) are a little bit thicker than Faber-Castell’s, giving a broader coverage with each stroke and making them ideal for a looser style of sketching. Derwent Graphic pencils are extremely consistent in their tones and are perhaps just a tiny bit darker than Faber-Castell’s 9000 range, below. I tend to use them in the darker grades, for drawing softer, darker areas such as patches of shadow. You can buy Derwent pencils singly, or in tins of ‘soft’, ‘medium’ or ‘hard’ grades.
FABER-CASTELL ‘9000’ PENCILS
The 9000 range of pencils are Faber-Castell’s oldest, and were apparently launched by Count Alexander von Faber-Castell in 1905! They are excellent pencils which never break or scratch – in fact, they break less than all the other brands in my experience.
Faber-Castell 9000 pencils are a little harder and lighter than Derwent’s Graphic range and I tend to use a mixture of both Derwent and Faber-Castell pencils depending on what I am drawing. The 9000 pencils are great for very delicate work and come in grades from 6H to 8B (It’s worth noting that grades 9H to 2H are really for graphic design work – they are so light that I can’t imagine sketching with them) You can also buy a version of these pencils with erasers on the end.
MARS ‘LUMOGRAPH’ PENCILS
The Mars Lumograph range are made by German company Staedler who are also pencil specialists. They come in a range from 6H to 8B. I tried these pencils recently and can’t deny that they are very good – Staedler boasts that they have an ‘unbelievably break-resistant through special lead formulation and super-bonded lead’.
Lumograph pencils are noticably softer than Faber-Castell or even Derwent and for this reason I didn’t get on with them very well as they are considerably darker than I’m used to. It’s hard to rub them out completely and since my technique involves a lot of drawing and then erasing into my drawing for layered look, they didn’t suit me. However they are lovely rich dark pencils to handle and if you have a strong and fast technique and don’t rub out too much, they’d be ideal.
CARAN D’ACHE ‘GRAFWOOD’ PENCILS
Caran d’Ache’s Grafwood range of pencils (also known as ‘Graphite Line’) have a brillint innovation, which is that they are painted in gradated tones depending on the grade of the individual pencil so that the softest pencil (9B) has a black painted casing, and the hardest (4H) is painted white. This is such an obvious but clever idea that I wish Derwent and Faber-Castell would copy it! If, like me, you use quite a range of different grades when you are drawing then it really saves you time that’s usually wasted on trying to locate the pencil you want.
Grafwood are a wider pencil than most brands and I find them just a little too large and chunky for my hands and for the detailed drawings that I do, but they’d be fine for sketching in a looser style. They are good quality pencils which don’t scratch or break. In general they are fairly dark and in the very softest grades they give a dense black that seems darker than other brands.
DALER-ROWNEY ‘ARTISTS’ GRAPHIC’ PENCILS
These Daler-Rowney pencils are a the darkest and softest pencils of all the ranges I have tried apart from the Mars Lumograph, and are a little too soft for my style. Whilst they do have a nice velvety feel, I found that the leads broke a lot in the softer grades which is very frustrating as you can sharpen away a whole pencil trying to get a pointed lead. Indeed the leads are so soft that even if I manage to sharpen them to a nice point, this would simply crumble away as I drew with them. They are cheaper than Derwent and Faber-Castell and definitely not quite as good quality. However they would still just about count as ‘artist grade’ pencils and would be a good compromise if you want a slightly more professional pencil at a better price.