Pencil Illustration

It is one of the most popular types of illustration. It is rich in material, which allows you creating soft shadows and transitions, as well creating sharp, accurate lines. Sometimes, illustrators choose to keep the pencil sketch very loose and to draft with a pencil – later on, they finish off the illustration with another material.

A solid drawing can stand on its own or be the foundation for a great painting. Being able to render your subject accurately as well as add shading and highlights that give it a 3-dimensional look on a flat piece of paper or canvas is crucial to the work’s success. But don’t despair; there are plenty of methods that will help make your drawings look better from the start.

Things to Know Before Starting
Most pencil manufacturers utilize the HB grading system.
  • The letter “H” is used to indicate the hardness of a pencil's mark.
  • The letter “B” is used to indicate the blackness of a pencil’s mark (a darker mark means a softer lead).
  • The letter “F” is used to indicate that the pencil lead is a special formulation that will maintain a fine point.

If you can remember this, you're set...

H = Hard
B = Black
F = Fine

The first graphite grading scale is a numeric scale. Using this scale, the hardness of the core is often marked on the pencil — look for a number (such as “2” “2-1/2” or “3”). The higher the number the harder the writing core and the lighter the mark left on the paper. As the pencil core becomes softer (through the use of lower proportions of clay) it leaves a darker mark as it deposits more graphite material on the paper. Softer pencils will dull faster than harder leads and require more frequent sharpening.

The second graphite grading scale is known as the HB scale. Most pencil manufacturers outside of the U.S. use this scale, using the letter “H” to indicate a hard pencil. Likewise, a pencil maker might use the letter “B” to designate the blackness of the pencil’s mark, indicating a softer lead. The letter “F” is also used to indicate that the pencil sharpens to a fine point.

Historically, pencil makers also use combinations of letters to tell us about the graphite — a pencil marked “HB” is hard and black, a pencil marked “HH” is very hard, and a pencil marked “BBB” is really, really black! Today, however, most pencils using the HB system are designated by a number such as 2B, 4B or 2H to indicate the degree of hardness. For example, a 4B would be softer than a 2B and a 3H harder than an H.

Generally, an HB grade about the middle of the scale is considered to be equivalent to a #2 pencil using the U.S. numbering system.

In reality however, there is no specific industry standard for the darkness of the mark to be left within the HB or any other hardness grade scale. Thus, a #2 or HB pencil from one brand will not necessarily leave the same mark as a #2 or HB pencil from another brand. Most pencil manufacturers set their own internal standards for graphite hardness grades and overall quality of the core, some differences are regional. In Japan, consumers tend to prefer softer darker leads; so an HB lead produced in Japan is generally softer and darker than an HB from European producers.

What Is Hatching?
A basic art technique, it is the placement of lines near each other either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The closer they are, the denser and darker an area will become. When the lines intersect, you get what is known as cross-hatching. It is a very effective way to make dark sections even darker or to give the appearance of texture. I will be referring to both hatching and cross-hatching throughout.

I’ve put together 16 of my favorite techniques I think will help you get a head start on making better drawings. I’ve used STAEDTLER Drawing Pencils and I recommend you do too since they offer several lead hardness's. You’ll see that the lead’s hardness makes all the difference in creating fine, medium, or thick marks as well as for adding light and dark values.

Vertical Hatching
Hatch from top to bottom. You can hold your hand in the air or while resting it on the surface. In the first case, the marks will be quick and loose and will vary from the start to the end. In the second case, it’s easier to control the distance between hatches and the pressure applied to the lead, making it more smooth and even.

Horizontal Hatching
Follow the instructions for vertical hatching, only this time draw lines from side to side.

Inclined Hatching
Now, place the lines from one corner to the opposite corner in one direction.

Begin with either horizontal, vertical, or diagonal lines. Next, add intersecting lines going in the opposite direction.

Radial Hatching
Start your marks at the center and work rows of short diagonal hatching out until you get to the edge of the page.

Expressive Hatching
The softest lead, such as 6B, is best for this technique. Use random and intermittent lines, changing the pressure applied to the lead and their direction throughout.

Contour Lines
These are smooth marks of varying distances apart made by applying even amounts of pressure to the lead.

For the maximum effect, use a soft lead. Adding plenty of pressure, apply a dark layer of graphite. Take a scrap piece of paper or a pre-rolled paper stump and rub the area until the marks are soft and well blended.

Make random open, closed, small, medium, and large loops. Practice changing the loops’ directions, the distance between them, the density of hatching, and the pressure applied to draw a line to see how many variations you can create.

Holding your pencil perpendicular to the paper, while applying pressure, will help you make these round marks. Using a hard lead will result in light, thin dots while using the softer leads will leave darker and thicker dots. Notice that the closer you place dots together, the darker the area looks.

Dotted Line
You can elongate dots to form rows of dashes. By varying the length, width and overall placement of dashes, these can be used to make interesting patterns.

Zigzag Lines
Without raising the pencil from the paper, start from one point and draw diagonally, getting longer and then shorter again until you have a square. You can use this technique to create the silhouette of many shapes by following its outline and changing the length of each line.

Interwoven Textures
Create the look of woven fabric by hatching in random directions all over the page. Vary the angles and shapes of your hatching to make it more visually interesting.

Basketweave Patterns
Alternate between vertical and horizontal hatching, drawing the same number of strokes for each to make rows that resemble the texture of a basket.

Wavy Lines
Start with long strokes of various shapes. Decide which areas you want to be solid colors. After filling those in, add more lines inside the shapes, following the existing contours. This is how “zentangles” are created and can be quite meditative to draw.

While never lifting your pencil, draw triangular, square, oval, and polygonal shapes all over the paper. Add contrast by applying a lot or a little pressure while also varying the distance apart the lines are.

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