Did you know that the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte? Thanks to him, we can use our beloved pencils to create anything we’d like.
In this article, I will show you drawing pencils for art and other must-have supplies for your next graphite drawing.
Over the years I’ve come to collect a mini collection of which I will tell you all about. An extra bonus is, that in contrary to other art supplies, my graphite drawing collection is pretty cheap!
My art supplies for graphite
Drawing pencils for graphite art
A full range of graphite pencils from 8B-9H
When I was looking for the right pencil to draw a portrait with, I got many search results of different kinds of pencils. There were the HB pencils, but then they were also talking about 9H’s, 2B’s and even F’s. But what does the B’s, H’s and F’s stand for? Feeling frustrated, I just decided to buy ‘em all. It’s not that expensive, so what did I have to lose?
After testing out my pencils, I quickly came to realize how the grading system works.
There are different stories about what the letters stand for, but they mean the same thing.
B grade drawing pencils
B stands for bold or black, which means the pencil will make dark, soft lines. H stands for hard, which will produce a harder and thus lighter mark. The higher the number, the more intense the grade will be. A 9H is extremely hard, making a slight mark. Whereas an 8B is extremely soft, making a very dark mark that easily smudges. Around 9H is the hardest you can get, and 10b is the softest. But some brands go a little beyond that.
H grade drawing pencils
HB sits in the middle of the spectrum. It’s not too hard, nor too soft. It’s most commonly used for writing, and in America often referred to as a number 2 pencil. Then there there’s also an F pencil. I’ts only one scale harder than the HB. Most companies in Europe say that F stands for fineness, although it is not more fine than any other grade.
Note: every manufacturer uses a grading system, however, there is no common standard, which makes every brand slightly different.
After working with graphite pencils for quite a while now, I would recommend you buy the full range. It’s cheap, plus you have the flexibility to adjust your value range depending on your drawing. I’m really liking the Bruynzeel brand, so once my Derwent pencils are too short to work with, I will switch my H’s to Bruynzeel.
I always start my drawings by sketching with an HB pencil. I love my HB for hatching as well. Then, (depending on the value range of my drawing), I start with the lightest pencil: my 8H. Then I slowly work my way down to the softest pencil for the darks. I usually use 8H, 5H 2H, HB, 2B, 4B and 6B. But since I have the full range, I can easily swap my pencils if I need to go lighter or darker.
Now that you got your initial layers down, you might want to render it smoothly. I use a blending stump for this.
A blending stump is a cylindrical drawing tool, that’s used by artists to blend pencil strokes. It’s made of rolled up or compressed paper, making it ideal to smooth out graphite. People often interchangeably call blending stumps tortillons.
There is, however, a difference between the two. Blending stumps are shorter than tortillons. They are made of rolled up or twisted paper. Tortillons are hollow and have a slightly different texture. I only ever used blending stumps though. They come in a few sizes per packet and are not expensive.
Sometimes I use a tissue to smooth out large areas of graphite. Please refrain from using a q-tip, as these are made from plastic (which we all know we could use a lot less off). It would be a waste to use it for a short amount of time and then toss it out.
Another must-have is a kneadable eraser. These kinds of erasers are made of a kneadable material, or putty, that can be easily shaped in any form the artist wants. It lifts the graphite from the paper.
After erasing you can get rid of the picked-up graphite by kneading it. One of the biggest advantages of this eraser is that it leaves no eraser dust. A handy tool if you’re sketching on the couch and don’t want to make a mess.
This is also the eraser you want to use if you want to erase graphite from watercolour paper. It’s very gentle and won’t harm the delicate paper texture.
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser
Another eraser that I like to use is the Tombow mono zero eraser. I haven’t tested out any other brands, but this one does the trick. It’s is a pencil eraser, meaning it’s a long narrow eraser that makes you erase the littlest of details.
It almost looks a bit like a mechanical pen. If you click the top, more of the eraser will come out. It will keep its point so you don’t have to worry about it getting dull. It’s great for lifting graphite for details like hair strands or highlights in the eyes.
Black pencil/charcoal pencil
When drawing with graphite you might notice that there’s only so much dark a pencil can get. Graphite can’t become fully black, which shortens your value range.
If you keep layering the graphite, not only does it not go very dark, the paper will lose its tooth. Meaning the texture of the paper will change. The flattening of the tooth in combination with a thick layer of graphite will make the drawing look shiny.
You could use a black coloured pencil or charcoal pencil to get those darks. The thing with charcoal is that you should lay it down first. You can’t go over graphite with charcoal.
It’s too smooth to cling onto. Charcoal can get super black whereas the black pencil does get black, but not as black as the charcoal. You won’t have trouble layering the coloured pencil on top of pencil strokes though.
When using B pencils you might notice that they become dull a lot faster than H pencils. This is because they are softer. If you’re going to work with soft pencils, like B grades or wax-based pencils like Prismacolor, you might have to sharpen a lot. This is where an electric sharpener comes in handy.
I recently purchased a Dahle sharpener. And let me tell you: it is magnificent. It only takes a few seconds for you to sharpen your pencils. This will make you save a lot of time. Plus it can sharpen pencils of different sizes and you can set the kind of tip you want.
And last but not least: paper. Luckily graphite isn’t that picky. If we were talking about watercolor paper this would be an entirely different story.
For my drawings, I use a very smooth drawing surface, like Canson Bristol smooth paper. But printer paper will do the trick as well. Not as fancy, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it if you’re going to sell your art, but you can use it as well.
I’m not particularly too picky about my drawing paper, but when I do commissions I tend to stick to heavy 250 GSM smooth paper. I also like to buy A3 paper, because it’s cheaper than smaller sizes. I simply cut the right size myself, making it a cheaper alternative to pre-cut paper.
So there you go, these are all of my must-have graphite drawing supplies. Having the flexibility to swap out my pencils to fit each drawing, makes it, in my eyes, must-haves!