Sketchbook: Expanding the Toolbox

Ever since I got all hopped up on trying out the tutorials and other exercises over at Rapid Fire Art, I decided to “invest” in a set of drawing pencils. I say that in quotes because Michaels has a series of art supplies called “Artist’s Loft” that tends to run about $5 USD per item/set, depending on what you’re into. I stopped by this weekend and picked up a set of colored pencils as well, because the set I’ve been using is rather brittle and certain colors aren’t holding up to being sharpened very well. Oh well. More on that story later, by the way.

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Note: I am not receiving any sort of compensation from anybody referenced in this blog post. If that ever changes, I will disclose accordingly. Just saying.

I mention the above because I was trying to remember what drawing pencil set I used to own, way back in the 1980s. Fortunately the set still exists, which means linking to a site that has an affiliate program. I’m not in on that action.

I don’t know why I thought they were “pricey”, except to be fair back then I was making a princely $3.35/hr USD, working as a custodian for an electrical supply. Everything was pricey back then.

What I do know is that I never really learned how to use the range of pencils effectively. I was trying to remember art class back then and came to the conclusion that the subject was never really explored. We could have, and most often did, sketched and drew with a single pencil. I think I got the “fancy” set because one or more of my friends had them. On the other hand, I was looking to go the “cartoonist” route which meant roughing in a panel, putting ink of some sort over it (usually marker) and erasing the pencil out after the ink dried.

In the modern day, I have quite the load of fancy markers, colored pencils of various sorts, and now a fairly wide range of drawing pencils. In a way, it’s like having a fairly loaded toolbox. Back when I had to do apartment maintenance, I used to respond to repair calls with my whole toolbox, then a “travel” box, then two screwdrivers and a pair of channel locks. Then just channel locks. (I once posited to my electrician buddy that push comes to shove, you could probably strip wire with channel locks. He agreed.)

So ye olde HB pencil is the channel locks of graphite, for me. I was down on myself about how “meh” my finished sketches were, then I saw a blurb about the importance of using more than one hardness/softness of pencil when drawing/sketching. One pencil, namely HB, is going to look like only one pencil type was used.

I drew boxes and scribbled a little in each one to get a feel for the new pencils:

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Next, I did the famous “the item closest to you is your subject” and whipped up a sketch of the pencil sharpener that came with the set, making sure to use at least 2 other pencils besides HB:

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Note: The sharpener was on my desk originally, which was more reflective.

I’ve noticed quickly that it’s not just the pencil type, but the technique. My default is single hatching when shading. I decided to use “scrumbling” when making the shadows which was more satisfying.

I’m trying to be more bold about committing to solid lines rather than leaving everything all “roughed in”.

As for colored pencils:

I was looking for colored pencil tutorials online (free ones, let’s be real) and the results were about as expected. Not definitive, but enough information to be dangerous. I did learn that I have a tendency to really jam down on my pencils when coloring in a dark area, which is a fine way to snap the lead. Colored pencils aren’t made of graphite.

I have to learn how to build up areas slowly rather than trying to solve all of the world’s problems with a single application of colored pencil.

To that end, it reminds me of house painting. I used to be really terrible at it, or at best, passable. In the end I was in lots of pain and had substandard results. Somebody taught me the right way to paint walls, and now I’m a pro. I can do entire rooms in up to 8 hours, depending on how much detail work/cutting in is involved. And relatively pain free! It’s all in the technique. I hated painting, and I was jamming the roller against the wall trying to plow through the chore. Now I do a little at a time and get much better results – I’ve called it “TV good” because it looked on par with home improvement shows.

That’s my goal now: Practicing drawing with pencils of various sorts (colored or plain) and improving my results.

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