The Skinny on Artist’s Drawing Pencils


It’s just a pencil, right? I mean we’ve all used them. They’re ubiquitous. (<– One of my favorite words.) It’s not necessarily true and if you would like to improve your drawing… you might want to read on.

I mentioned in a previous post that I don’t believe that materials make the artwork better, but I do believe BAD materials contribute to bad art. I’m sure we have all used a No. 2 pencil. I love them and still have multiple Dixon Ticonderogas on my desk and used them all the time. Nothing more beautiful than a brand new, perfectly sharpened Ticonderoga. To be able to do a great drawing with a No. 2 Pencil is a great thing and it certainly is possible, but knowing about different pencils could change your outlook.

As a child I was always drawing… and that No. 2 pencil was my best friend. I learned to stretch it’s capabilities to make it create great things. As I got older and more serious about my art, I learned about artist’s pencils and things changed drastically.

In the previous posts I went through a simple drawing exercise that stressed “seeing”. I did not make mention of any specific materials except for a kneaded eraser and in the final videos I used 3 different artist’s drawing pencils (7H, HB & 3B). These could greatly help your sketching/drawing if you learn how to use them.

There are basically 20 different lead grades. This chart shows how those pencils mark the paper when the same pressure is applied. H pencils have hard lead and get harder the higher number. B pencils have soft lead and get softer the higher the number. HB is equal to the standard number 2 pencil. The F (does NOT stand for “fine”) is just a tad harder than the HB, but not has hard as the H.


Should you decided to invest in a set, I highly recommend making a chart like the one above to discover what they can all do for you. I like to start with a very hard (7H & 8H) whenever I do any drawing. In the sketchbook I walk around with I have a 4H which allows for a lot of range for my hand. I tend to press quite hard and use a quick cross-hatching motion (Michelangelo drew like this and I think subconsciously I picked this up).

My preference is for Derwent as they were the first full set I purchased and I keep using them out of nostalgia, but I’m not open to other brands. Derwent are made in the UK and have a distinctive orange stripe. Most art stores carry them and you can visit their website here.


Hope this was helpful. Have a nice weekend and maybe I’ll talk about paper next… Peace.


  1. Great post! I still remember the first time I used a pencil that wasn’t a No.2. It was a 3B that I snagged off my Mom’s table. The color was so rich and deep. I fell in love with that pencil! It was life changing.

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