I got it in my head this week to write about pencils. Not just any pencils but he pencils I use and how I use them. Pencils are such a simple tool but there are a lot of different kinds of them. Some artists only ever use one type of pencil and I actually have more pencils than this but these are the seven that I use the most. These are the ones that are always on hand in the side tray of my drawing table. The other types of pencils that I have are tucked away in a box and only taken out on the rare occasion that I need them. Or the other pencils could be ones that I bought to try out and see what they can do but I never found a good use for them. I always like try out new pencils and new black markers.

The first three pencils on the left are all mechanical pencils. I used mechanical pencils a lot in my youth, didn’t use them very much in my twenties, and then picked them up and again used them regularly sometime in my thirties. Mechanical pencils are all identified by the width of the graphite (it has never been lead in my lifetime but I still call it that sometimes) that they hold. The yellow one is .9mm, the blue one .7mm, and the black one .5mm. That means that the yellow one has the thickest lead in it. That’s a fairly new pencil too. I bought it within the last five years. I don’t even think they made them that thick before then. At least I never saw them. It’s still a pencil you can only find in art catalogues.

The black mechanical pencil it the size most people have. It’s the .5mm size that’s found in every school supply store around. This particular pencil is a specialty drafting pencil that, I think, someone gave to me or found at a garage sale back when I was in high school. Functionally it’s no different than a cheap .5mm pencil that can be found anywhere but it’s much better made and feels good in the hand. The black pencil also looks a little different than the standard model. The yellow and blue ones are how a Pentel mechanical drafting pencil usually looks and I have some .5mm ones that look like that too but occasionally I find an off-model one like this black .5mm. I don’t know why it was made differently but I like it.

The blue .7mm pencil is the one I use the most. If I want a little blunter lead I grab the .9mm or if I want a little sharper point I grab the .5mm but it’s mostly the .7mm. I find the size suits me. As a matter of fact I think the .7mm size was responsible for me using mechanical pencils again back in my early thirties. I had mostly used the more common .5mm in my youth and it was okay but when I discovered the .7mm later on I liked it much better.

I use soft graphite in these mechanical pencils. Graphite goes from “B” which is soft to “H” which is hard. Numbers modify the letter too. So 6B is really soft and 2B soft while 6H is really hard and 2H is just hard. I keep 2B in these pencils. That’s very soft for a mechanical pencil and you wouldn’t even be able to find that graphite in a school supply store. You have to find it in an art store or catalogue. Most school supply mechanical pencils come with HB graphite that is right in the middle of the softness scale. I keep an extra one of each of these size pencils around with HB graphite in them just in case I need some harder graphite.

The fourth pencil in line is a wooden one that I use for graphite transfers. It’s a 2H which makes it a fairly hard pencil. I don’t like to draw with hard pencils. I used to use them all the time in my 20s because they’re what a lot of cartoonists use but they never suited me. I only use them now when I’m transferring a drawing using graphite paper. Graphite paper is sort of like old-time carbon paper except instead of ink the paper is covered in graphite. You put down a clean sheet of paper, set the graphite paper on top of it, then put a paper (usually an inkjet copy in my case) with a drawing on it on top. Then trace the drawing that’s on top. The pressure of the pencil transfers the graphite from the graphite paper to the bottom blank sheet. I need a hard pencil to get a good transfer line. That’s why I use the 2H.

The fifth and sixth pencils are the same. General’s white charcoal pencils. I use these to add highlights to my marker drawings. Plus I sometimes draw on black paper with them. That’s kinda fun. I put two of them in the photo to show you my improvised pencil extender. That’s the blue part on the bottom of the first white pencil. It’s an old “Click” eraser stick with the eraser used. I find that a short pencil fits in the end perfectly and I can hold the pencil easily again. I use one of these with all of my wooden pencils once they get halfway done. I’ve been doing that since my early twenties so that makes those plastic eraser stick holders over twenty years old. Time flies.

The seventh pencil, the green wooden one, is a 4B pencil that I start most of my drawing with. Sometimes it’s a 6B depending on what’s available but I like a nice soft pencil to start out with. The soft graphite is easily grabbed by the paper and I can use a light hand and move fast. With a harder pencil I was always pressing too hard, moving too slow, and gouging the paper. A soft pencil is harder to erase since the graphite is much darker but that’s okay with me. It’s much worse to press ruts into the paper with a hard pencil trying to make a dark line.

The eighth and final pencil is a General’s sketch pencil. Once again it’s a soft pencil, 6B, and there is no point to be found on this one. It’s blunt. I use this when drawing bigger. If I have a big 16×20 inch piece of paper I need to scale up my tools. This fits the bill nicely. I’ll switch over to a regular wooden pencil eventually but for the beginning sketch it’s the General all the way. There is no obsessing over tiny little detail when using this one. That’s what I need in the beginning stages of a drawing.

So there they are: pencils. A tool I hardly ever think about yet I use each pretty specifically and each developed their place in my side tray on their own. Interesting.