Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Back to pencils

Derwent Graphic 4B

I drew with pencils (or charcoal) for years before I took up the thick black marker pen. The shift was for a variety of reasons, not least my love for intense blackness and the permanence of ink. But when I was sent a variety of Derwent drawing products recently, it was no hardship to try them out.

There's nothing quite like a pencil. I have written before about why I find them so fantastic: their natural, organic quality, their glorious subtleties of line, their apparent omnipresence (is there a home in the world without at least one, or a shopping street that doesn't sell them?), and their overall honesty (what you see is exactly what you get, and you're not left wondering how long it is before they run out).

Derwent Graphic 8B

The way you work has a big influence on what pencils you may need. I have rarely used the harder pencils from the H end of the scale in Derwent's Graphic set, preferring a 2B, 4B or 6B. Using softer pencils mean they need sharpening more often, if that is important, and that they get worked down more quickly, but this is a small price to pay. It's fun just to pull the point across the surface of the paper: the feel of a pencil on the paper is so nuanced you can sense the texture as the graphite is applied in a way that you never do with the ink of a marker pen.

The Sketching set is a softer, thicker graphite, in HB, 2B and 4B. I think it is only as I am using these that I realise how much I like the point of a pencil. It's the precision – the lack of "sketchiness" – that is appealing about a pencil, just as it is the uniform, relentless directness of a thick black marker pen that I find appealing.

Derwent Sketching 4B

My problems with pencils? They can be more subtle and "sketchy" than I like, and don't always show up strongly when posted on social media. A dropped pencil can mean the graphite shaft is shattered so a sharpened lead is quickly broken, especially with softer pencils (although getting a set in a tin helps to reduce this likelihood). But for all that, pencils are a beautiful thing – my thanks to Derwent for sending them for me to try.


Michael Lukyniuk said...

Thanks for sharing your sketches, James. They're always interesting.
Concerning pencils, you're right about their uniqueness - pencil lines can also be smudged for special effects, the lead point can be used on its side for wider lines, and best of all . . . lines can be erased. And this last point about pencils makes me feel a little more free to experiment when using them. I don't have the same feeling when using ink (much as I love the permanence of a dark black line). I haven't created anything for a while with just a pencil. Your posting may make me check it out again.

James Hobbs said...

Thanks, Michael. It's true, it is good to try things that we haven't for a while to see how time and experience have influenced our approach. I've forgotten what it is like to erase. Maybe it is easier to be looser with a pencil knowing we can take things back a step (a real-life "command-Z"), even if in reality we never do. It's the step of drawing with ink with the freedom of drawing with a pencil that interests me. Drawing without the use of a safety net.

Caroline said...

I rarely use graphite pencils, as you say, they can have a sketchiness and I find that students can so easily hide behind a faint line and avoid committing themselves. Pencils can take us right back to the classroom, too, where everything had to be neat and correct, and where no chances were taken- for this reason I try to avoid them for new students. However, I do use black coloured pencils, like Derwent Drawing pencils, which are rich, smooth and creamy and give a delightfully strong black line.

James Hobbs said...

Thanks for the tip, Caroline. I dropped in to buy a couple of those today and will give them a go. I'll let you know how I get on.