Ever wanted to improve on your sketching skills? Well why not join in the latest mini challenge at Challenge Central?
Grab your pencils, pens, charcoal or pastels and join us for a sketching mini challenge. 12 specially selected images to help you improve your sketching skills, whether you are an accomplished artist or like me somewhat of a absolute beginner. There will be something in this challenge to put your skills to the test.
There is no pressure on you within this challenge to produce an exact copy of the reference photo, in fact you can choose to sketch only part of the photo if you so wish. The aim of the challenge is to boost your confidence when it comes to sketching and give you the opportunity to practice sketching/shading and composition skills.
So why not come along to Challenge Central and see what it is all about, registration is simple and just requires an email address and password. So why delay? Visit us today and make your mark on the art based challenges.
The challenge has now started and runs until 31st July. So you have plenty of time to join in and improve your sketching skills.
Once your sketch is complete be sure to upload it to the folder within the forums on Challenge Central.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to a brand new expansion site that has been added to Alizarin Portal.
Challenge Central is a challenge based site with the impetus been placed upon challenging you to improve your art. There are many different challenges planned that will both test your painting skills and allow you to identify areas of your repertoire that may need improving.
There are a variety of challenges happening all the time, a weekly image challenge that not only challenges you to paint an impression of a photographic image, but with a new format added. Now challenges you to paint certain images under varying constraints, such as time limits, stroke limits etc.
There are larger more involved challenges running on a monthly basis, that generally focus on one particular aspect or genre of painting. These monthly challenges are a great way to motivate yourself to paint more often and give you all the reference images, to make the motivation just that little bit easier.
So why not come along and see what the site has to offer the artist within you? Registration is simple, you just need an email address and password and you are all set to join in the fun. The site can be accessed via the link below:
Pastel sticks or crayons consist of pure powdered pigment combined with a binder. The exact composition and characteristics of an individual pastel stick depends on the type of pastel and the type and amount of binder used. It also varies by individual manufacturer.
Types of dry pastel:
Soft pastels: This is the most widely used form of pastel. The sticks have a higher portion of pigment and less binder, resulting in brighter colours. The drawing can be readily smudged and blended, but it results in a higher proportion of dust. Finished drawings made with soft pastels require protecting, either framing under glass or spraying with a fixative to prevent smudging; hairspray also works, although caution should be taken, as fixatives may affect the colour or texture of the drawing. White chalk may be used as a filler in producing pale and bright hues with greater luminosity.
Pan pastels: These are formulated with a minimum of binder in flat compacts and applied with special Soft micropore sponge tools. No liquid is involved. A 21st-century invention, pan pastels can be used for the entire painting or in combination with soft and hard sticks.
Hard pastels: These have a higher portion of binder and less pigment, producing a sharp drawing material that is useful for fine details. These can be used with other pastels for drawing outlines and adding accents. Hard pastels are traditionally used to create the preliminary sketching out of a composition. However, the colours are less brilliant and are available in a restricted range in contrast to soft pastels.
Pastel pencils: These are pencils with a pastel core. They are useful for adding fine details.
In addition to dry pastels, others are manufactured in a different way:
Oil pastels: These have a soft, buttery consistency and intense colours. They are dense and fill the grain of paper and are slightly more difficult to blend than soft pastels, but do not require a fixative. They may be spread across the work surface by thinning with turpentine.
Water-soluble pastels: These are similar to soft pastels, but contain a water-soluble component, such as Polyethylene glycol. This allows the colours to be thinned out to an even, semi-transparent consistency using a water wash. Water-soluble pastels are made in a restricted range of hues in strong colours. They have the advantages of enabling easy blending and mixing of the hues, given their fluidity, as well as allowing a range of colour tint effects depending upon the amount of water applied with a brush to the working surface.
There has been some debate within art societies as to what exactly counts as a pastel. The Pastel Society within the UK (the oldest pastel society) states the following are acceptable media for its exhibitions: “Pastels, including Oil pastel, Charcoal, Pencil, Conté, Sanguine, or any dry media”. The emphasis appears to be on “dry media” but the debate continues.
Sidewalk chalk is typically large, coloured (and sometimes white or cream) sticks of chalk (calcium sulphate rather than rock chalk, calcium carbonate) mostly used for drawing on pavement or concrete sidewalks. It is sometimes used by children to draw a four square court or a hopscotch board. Blackboard chalk is typically shorter.
Sidewalk chalk is used at some universities to advertise for events, especially where there is much concrete. Prohibitions are set for where students can chalk, usually limiting it to areas that will be washed away with rain, or areas which are set to be cleaned of chalk markings.
Some teachers promote use of sidewalk chalk on a carpet as an interactive teaching tool. Although sidewalk chalk is created to allow people to draw on sidewalks or pavement, some law enforcement agencies may prohibit sidewalk drawing in certain areas without first being requested for authorization.
Artists such as Kurt Wenner, Ellis Gallagher and Julian Beever have created intricate and realistic street paintings using the chalk and pastels. It is typical for sidewalk chalk artists to use anamorphic drawing when drawing with sidewalk chalk. Non-anamorphic drawing are drawings that are drawn to be observed face-on, whereas anamorphic drawings are drawn to be observed from a different viewpoint.
There are several different types of sidewalk chalk, typically coming in solid-coloured sticks. 3-D sidewalk chalk sets, in which each stick of chalk is created with two particular colours that appear 3-dimensional when viewed through the 3-D glasses that come with the chalk, also exist.
An eraser, (also calleda rubber outside the United States,from the material first used) is an item of stationery that is used for removing writing from paper. Erasers have a rubbery consistency and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Some pencils have an eraser on one end. Less expensive erasers are made from synthetic rubber and synthetic soy-based gum, but more expensive or specialized erasers are vinyl, plastic, or gum-like materials.
At first, erasers were made to erase mistakes made with a pencil; later, more abrasive ink erasers were introduced. Ink erasers are denser, allowing them to erase pen marks. The term is also used for things that remove writing from chalkboards and whiteboards.
Originally made from natural rubber, but now usually from cheaper Styrene-Butadiene, this type contains mineral fillers and an abrasive such as pumice with a plasticizer such as vegetable oil.
Good quality plasticized vinyl or other “plastic” erasers, originally trademarked Mylar in the mid-20th century, are softer and non-abrasive. Being softer and non-abrasive, they were less likely to damage canvas or paper. Engineers favour this type of eraser for work on technical drawings due to their gentleness on paper with less smearing to surrounding areas. They often come in white and can be found in a variety of shapes.
Kneaded erasers have a plastic consistency and are common to most artists’ standard toolkit. They can be pulled into a point for erasing small areas and tight detail erasing, moulded into a textured surface and used like a reverse stamp to give texture, or used in a “blotting” manner to lighten lines or shading without completely erasing them. They gradually lose their efficacy and resilience as they become infused with particles picked up from erasing and from their environment. They are not suited to erase large areas because of their tendency to deform under vigorous erasing.
Commonly sold in retail outlets with school supplies and home improvement products, this soft, malleable putty appears in many colours and under numerous brand names. Putty works much the same as traditional kneaded erasers, but with a greater tack and in some circumstances, lifting strength. Poster putty does not erase so much as lighten by directly pulling particles of graphite, charcoal or pastel from a drawing. In this regard, poster putty does not smudge or damage work in the process. Repeatedly touching the putty to a drawing pulls ever more medium free, gradually lightening the work in a controlled fashion. Poster putty loses its efficacy with use, becoming less tacky as the material grows polluted with debris and oils from the user’s skin.
The electric eraser was invented in 1932 by Arthur Dremel of Racine, Wisconsin, USA. It used a replaceable cylinder of eraser material held by a chuck driven on the axis of a motor. The speed of rotation allowed less pressure to be used, which minimized paper damage. Originally standard pencil-eraser rubber was used, later replaced by higher-performance vinyl. Dremel went on to develop an entire line of hand-held rotary power tools.
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which coloured pigments are added. The liquid or paste is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used. The simplest encaustic mixture can be made from adding pigments to beeswax, but there are several other recipes that can be used—some containing other types of waxes and other ingredients. Pure, powdered pigments can be used, though some mixtures use oil paints or other forms of pigment.
Metal tools and special brushes can be used to shape the paint before it cools, or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled onto the surface. Today, tools such as heat lamps, heat guns, and other methods of applying heat allow artists to extend the amount of time they have to work with the material. Because wax is used as the pigment binder, encaustics can be sculpted as well as painted. Other materials can be encased or collaged into the surface, or layered, using the encaustic medium to stick them to the surface.
The word encaustic originates from the Greek word enkaustikos which means to burn in, and this element of heat is necessary for a painting to be called encaustic.
This technique was notably used in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around 100–300 AD, in the Blachernitissa and other early icons, as well as in many works of 20th-century North American artists, including Jasper Johns, Tony Scherman, Mark Perlman, and Fernando Leal Audirac.
Kut-kut, a lost art of the Philippines, employs sgraffito and encaustic techniques. It was practiced by the indigenous tribe of Samar island around 1600 to 1800. Artists in the Mexican muralism movement, such as Diego Rivera and Jean Charlot sometimes used encaustic painting. The Belgian artist James Ensor also experimented with encaustic.
The wax encaustic painting technique was described by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder in his written observations from the 1st Century AD. The oldest surviving encaustic panel paintings are the Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits from the 1st Century BC.
Encaustic art has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 1990s with people using electric irons, hotplates and heated styli on different surfaces including card, paper and even pottery. The iron makes producing a variety of artistic patterns easier. The medium is not limited to just simple designs; it can be used to create complex paintings, just as in other media such as oil and acrylic. Although technically difficult to master, attractions of this medium for contemporary artists are its dimensional quality and luminous colour.
A gesture drawing is a laying in of the action, form, and pose of a model/figure. Typical situations involve an artist drawing a series of poses taken by a model in a short amount of time, often as little as 10 seconds, or as long as 5 minutes. Gesture drawing is often performed as a warm-up for a life drawing session, but is a skill that must be cultivated for its own sake.
The primary purpose of gesture drawing is to facilitate the study of the human figure in motion. This exploration of action is helpful for the artist to better understand the exertions of muscles, the effects of twisting on the body, and the natural range of motion in the joints. Basically, it is a method of training hands to sketch what the brain has already seen. Staying “focused” means sustained concentration.
The practice allows an artist to draw strenuous or spontaneous poses that cannot be held by the model long enough for an elaborate study, and reinforces the importance of movement, action, and direction, which can be overlooked during a long drawing. Thus, an approach is encouraged which notes basic lines of rhythm within the figure. The rapidity of execution suggests an aesthetic which is most concerned with the essence of the pose, and an economy of means in its representation, rather than a careful study of modelling of light on the form.
For some artists, there is a callisthenic logic: just as an athlete warms up before exercising or participating in sports, artists use gesture drawing to prepare themselves mentally and physically for a figure drawing session. The fast pace of gesture poses help an artist “loosen up” to avoid a stiff drawing style.
For some artists, a gesture drawing is the first step in preparing a more sustained work. Other artists, who seek to capture brief moments of time in a direct manner, consider the gesture drawing to be the end product.
Croquis Drawing is quick and sketchy drawing of a live model. Croquis drawings are usually made in a few minutes, after which the model changes pose or leaves and another croquis is drawn.
The short duration of the pose benefits models because they do not need to keep still for a long time; this also benefits the artists because it helps them concentrate on the essential elements of the pose, or the most important parts of the drawing. An artist does not have time to draw all the details, so they learn to concentrate on the important elements. Croquis is also a good method of drawing subjects that generally do not stand still and pose, such as insects, animals, and children.
Contour drawing, is an artistic technique used in the field of art in which the artist sketches the contour of a subject by drawing lines that result in a drawing that is essentially an outline; the French word contour meaning, “outline.” The purpose of contour drawing is to emphasize the mass and volume of the subject rather than the detail; the focus is on the outlined shape of the subject and not the minor details. However, because contour can convey a three-dimensional perspective, length and width as well as thickness and depth are important; not all contours exist along the outlines of a subject. This technique is manifested in different styles and practiced in drawing development and learning.
In a continuous-line drawing, the artist looks both at the subject and the paper, moving the medium over the paper, and creating a silhouette of the object. Like blind contour drawing, contour drawing is an artful experience that relies more on sensation than
perception; it’s important to be guided by instinct. To make a blind contour drawing, an artist does not look at the paper or canvas on which he/she is working. Another technique similar to contour drawing is outline drawing; a division between form and the space a subject occupies. All three types of drawing are considered to be gesture drawings; the practice of drawing a series of bodies in still form. An outline drawing does not include the visual amusement of human sight, while a contour drawing contains form, weight, mass, space, and distance.
By altering the character of the mark, an artist can emulate many aspects of the subject that relate form and space to the viewer. For example, a line can be lighter in value (gradation) to suggest greater distance between objects in the drawing. A darker portion of the contour could represent an object with little or no light source; the space is compressed or the object is lower. Continuous lines used inside the outline of a subject can add accent or cast shadow, depending on the value of the line.
Blind contour drawing is a drawing exercise, where an artist draws the contour of a subject without looking at the paper. The student fixes their eyes on the outline of the model or object, then tracks the edge of the object with his or
her eyes, while simultaneously drawing the contour very slowly, in a steady, continuous line without lifting the pencil or looking at the paper.
The purpose of drawing blindly is to force the artist’s eye to move along the contour of the subject as his or her pencil moves along the paper. Initially, this type of drawing may be difficult and slow, but an artist will find that with practice, it is an effective way of defining observation skills such as identifying and underlying the structure of the subject, relating forms, and conveying the sensual experience of the subject. Through thorough practice in this style, he/she will be skilled at drawing anything quickly and successively.
Subtractive drawing is a technique in which the drawing surface is covered with graphite or charcoal and then erased to make the image. Artists commonly use a kneaded eraser for this type of drawing, due to its ability have custom or fine tips.
A figure drawing is a drawing of the human form in any of its various shapes and postures using any of the drawing media. The term can also refer to the act of producing such a drawing. The degree of representation may range from highly detailed, anatomically correct renderings to loose and expressive sketches. A “life drawing” is a drawing of the human figure from observation of a live model. A figure drawing may be a composed work of art or a figure study done in preparation for a more finished work such as a painting.
Figure drawing is arguably the most difficult subject an artist commonly encounters, and entire courses are dedicated to the subject. Artists take a variety of approaches to drawing the human figure. They may draw from live models or from photographs, from skeletal models, or from memory and imagination. Most instruction focuses on the use of models in “life drawing” courses. The use of photographic reference—although common since the development of photography is often criticized or discouraged for its tendency to produce “flat” images that fail to capture the dynamic aspects of the subject. Drawing from imagination is often lauded for the expressiveness it encourages, and criticized for the inaccuracies introduced by the artist’s lack of knowledge or limited memory in visualizing the human figure; the experience of the artist with other methods has a large influence on the effectiveness of this approach.
In developing the image, some artists focus on the shapes created by the interplay of light and dark values on the surfaces of the body. Others take an anatomical approach, beginning by approximating the internal skeleton of the figure, overlaying the internal organs and musculature, and covering those shapes with the skin, and finally (if applicable) clothing; study of human internal anatomy is usually involved in this technique. Another approach is to loosely construct the body out of geometric shapes, e.g., a sphere for the cranium, a cylinder for the torso, etc. then refine those shapes to more closely resemble the human form.
For those working without visual reference (or as a means of checking one’s work), proportions commonly recommended in figure drawing are:
An average person is generally 7-and-a-half heads tall (including the head). This can be illustrated to students in the classroom using paper plates to visually demonstrate the length of their bodies.
An ideal figure, used for an impression of nobility or grace, is drawn at 8 heads tall.
A heroic figure used in the depiction of gods and superheroes is eight-and-a-half heads tall. Most of the additional length comes from a bigger chest and longer legs.
Note that these proportions are most useful for a standing model. Poses which introduce foreshortening of various body parts will cause them to differ.
The French Salon in the 19th century recommended the use of Conté crayons, which are sticks of wax, oil and pigment, combined with specially formulated paper. Erasure was not permitted; instead, the artist was expected to describe the figure in light strokes before making darker, more visible marks.
A popular modern technique is the use of a charcoal stick, prepared from special vines, and a rougher form of paper. The charcoal adheres loosely to the paper, allowing very easy erasure, but the final drawing can be preserved using a spray-on “fixative” to keep the charcoal from rubbing off. Harder compressed charcoal can produce a more deliberate and precise effect, and graduated tones can be produced by smudging with the fingers or with a cylindrical paper tool called a stump.
Graphite pencil is also commonly used for figure drawing. For this purpose artists’ pencils are sold in various formulations, ranging from 9B (very soft) to 1B (medium soft), and from 1H (medium hard) to 9H (very hard). Like charcoal, it can be erased and manipulated using a stump.
Ink is another popular medium. The artist will often start with graphite pencil to sketch or outline the drawing, then the final line work is done with a pen or brush, with permanent ink. The ink may be diluted with water to produce gradations, a technique called ink wash. The pencil marks may be erased after the ink is applied, or left in place with the dark inks overpowering them.
Some artists draw directly in ink without the preparation of a pencil sketch, preferring the spontaneity of this approach despite the fact that it limits the ability to correct mistakes. Matisse is an artist known to have worked in this way.
Drawing is a form of visual art in which a person uses various drawing instruments to mark paper or another two-dimensional medium. Instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, various kinds of paints, inked brushes, coloured pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses, and various metals (such as silverpoint).
Drawing is used to express one’s creativity, and therefore has been prominent in the world of art. Throughout much of history, drawing was regarded as the foundation for artistic practice. Initially, artists used and reused wooden tablets for the production of their drawings.
Following the widespread availability of paper in the 14th century, the use of drawing in the arts increased. At this point, drawing was commonly used as a tool for thought and investigation, acting as a study medium whilst artists were preparing for their final pieces of work.
The Renaissance brought about a great sophistication in drawing techniques, enabling artists to represent things more realistically than before, and revealing an interest in geometry and philosophy.
Sketching is a rapidly executed freehand drawing that is not usually intended as a finished work. A sketch may serve a number of purposes: it might record something that the artist sees, it might record or develop an idea for later use or it might be used as a quick way of graphically demonstrating an image, idea or principle.
Sketches can be made in any drawing medium. The term is most often applied to graphic work executed in a dry medium such as silverpoint, graphite, pencil, charcoal or pastel. It may also apply to drawings executed in pen and ink, digital input such as a digital pen, ballpoint pen, marker pen, water colour and oil paint. The latter two are generally referred to as “water colour sketches” and “oil sketches”.
Most visual artists use, to a greater or lesser degree, the sketch as a method of recording or working out ideas. The sketchbooks of some individual artists have become very well known, including those of Leonardo da Vinci and Edgar Degas which have become art objects in their own right, with many pages showing finished studies as well as sketches.
The ability to quickly record impressions through sketching has found varied purposes in today’s culture. Courtroom sketches record scenes and individuals in law courts. Sketches drawn to help authorities find or identify wanted people are called composite sketches. Street artists in popular tourist areas sketch portraits within minutes.
A doodle is a drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be composed of random and abstract lines, generally without ever lifting the drawing device from the paper, in which case it is usually called a “scribble”.
The word doodle first appeared in the early 17th century to mean a fool or simpleton. It is the origin of the early eighteenth century verb to doodle, meaning “to swindle or to make a fool of”. The modern meaning emerged in the 1930s either from this meaning or from the verb “to dawdle”, which since the seventeenth century has had the meaning of wasting time or being lazy.
According to a study published in the scientific journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodling can aid a person’s memory by expending just enough energy to keep one from daydreaming, which demands a lot of the brain’s processing power, as well as from not paying attention. Thus, it acts as a mediator between the spectrum of thinking too much or thinking too little and helps focus on the current situation.
Alexander Pushkin’s notebooks are celebrated for their superabundance of marginal doodles, which include sketches of friends’ profiles, hands, and feet. These notebooks are regarded as a work of art in their own right. Full editions of Pushkin’s doodles have been undertaken on several occasions.
Urban Sketchers (USk) is a global community of artists that practice drawing on location in cities, towns and villages they live in or travel to. The USk motto is “We show the world, one drawing at a time!”
Urban Sketchers has a manifesto which reads:
We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
Our drawings are a record of time and place.
We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
We support each other and draw together.
We share our drawings online.
We show the world, one drawing at a time.
Artists who contribute to Urban Sketchers can host workshops for sketching enthusiasts around the world. The workshops aim to teach skills useful to the
practice of urban sketching. Workshops can cover a variety of topics, such as perspective, panoramas, and people, and take place in the urban environment appropriate for the topic.
Regional Urban Sketchers groups function similar to the main global group. All embrace the vision of the Urban Sketchers Manifesto as leading guidelines, while each group maintains its local and cultural individuality. Many groups have their own blogs where correspondents are invited based on local criteria, Facebook and Flickr groups where all are welcome.
Since their invention and subsequent proliferation in the mid-20th century, ballpoint pens have proven to be a versatile art medium for professional artists as well as amateur doodlers. Ballpoint pen artwork created over the years have been favourably compared to art created using traditional art mediums. Low cost, availability, and portability are cited by practitioners as qualities which make this common writing tool a convenient, alternative art supply.
Ballpoint pen enthusiasts find the pens particularly handy for quick sketch work. Some artists use them within mixed-media works, while others use them solely as their medium-of-choice. The medium is not without limitations; colour availability and sensitivity of ink to light are among concerns of ballpoint pen artists. The internet now provides a broad forum for artists to
promote their own ballpoint creations, and since its inception ballpoint pen art websites have flourished, showcasing the artwork and offering information of the usage of ballpoint pens as an art medium.
Some of the most famous artists of the 20th century have utilized ballpoint pens to some extent during their careers. Andy Warhol and Alberto Giacometti both used ballpoints within their artwork in the 1950s. Cy Twombly exhibited small ballpoint drawings in the 1970s.
Another early example of the creative prospects with which ballpoint pens are connected, the popular Spirograph included coloured ballpoints (black, blue, red, green) as part of its boxed set. The holes positioned on a Spirograph’s “gears” were, at that time, reportedly sized to accommodate tips of the fine-point pens provided. The mass-marketing of Spirograph in America, ballpoints included, coincided with the advent of 1960s psychedelic culture.
Techniques and Effects
Ballpoint pens require little or no preparation. The immediacy allowed by ballpoints makes the pens ideal for quick sketches, convenient while traveling, and appealing to artists for whom sudden creative urges cannot be side-tracked by logistics or lengthy preparation time. For artists whose Interests necessitate precision line-work, ballpoints are an obvious attraction; ballpoint pens allow for sharp lines not as effectively executed using a brush. Aside from standard ball-point sizes of fine or medium, the points of some pens are manufactured at multiple point-sizes—some in series with point-sizes ranging from 0.5 to 1.6mm—allowing for broader applications.
Effects not generally associated with ballpoint pens can be achieved. Traditional pen-and-ink techniques such as stippling and cross-hatching can be used to create half-tones or the illusion of form and volume. Skilful integration of existing colours can create an illusion of colours which do not actually exist. Finely applied, the resulting imagery has been mistaken for
airbrushed artwork and photography, causing a reaction of disbelief which artist Lennie Mace refers to as the “Wow Factor”. Watercolour washes are applied by some artists in conjunction with the pen-work. Directly mixed on the drawing surface, watercolour causes the ballpoint ink to bleed, creating additional effects.
Drawbacks in Ballpoint Art
Using ballpoint pens to create artwork poses various concerns for the artist. Ballpoints are not known for providing many colour options; standard black, blue, red and green inks are the most common colours available.
Because of a reliance on gravity to coat the ball with ink, ballpoint pens must be held upright in order to properly dispense the ink; also “blobbing” of ink on the drawing surface and “skipping” of ink-flow require consideration when using ballpoint pens for artistic purposes.
Mistakes pose greater risks to ballpoint artists; once a line is drawn, it generally cannot be erased. Ballpoint artists may consider this irreversibility somewhat unnerving, but some face the challenge as a test of skill. Ballpoint artist James Mylne has described the required level of focus as meditative. Pens with erasers and erasable ink have been manufactured, but only in black and blue inks, and with very different characteristics than normal inks.
A ballpoint pen doodle of a shark drawn in 1991 by British artist Damien Hirst sold for £4,664 at a London auction in 2012.
Pencils create marks by physical abrasion, leaving behind a trail of solid core material that adheres to a sheet of paper or other surface. They are distinct from pens, which instead disperse a trail of liquid or gel ink that stains the light colour of the paper by absorption.
Most pencil cores are made of graphite mixed with a clay binder which leaves grey or black marks that can be easily erased. The most common type of pencil casing is of thin wood, usually hexagonal in section but sometimes cylindrical, permanently bonded to the core. Similar permanent casings may be constructed of other materials such as plastic or paper. To use the pencil, the casing must be carved or peeled off to expose the working end of the core as a sharp point. Mechanical pencils have more elaborate casings which are not permanently bonded to the core.
As a technique for drawing, the closest predecessor to the pencil was Silverpoint until in 1565 (some sources say as early as 1500), a large deposit of graphite was discovered on the approach to Grey Knott’s from the hamlet of Sea Thwaite in Borrowdale parish, Cumbria, England. This particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and it could easily be sawn into sticks. It remains the only large-scale deposit of graphite ever found in this solid form. Chemistry was in its infancy and the substance was thought to be a form of lead. Consequently, it was called plumbago (Latin for “lead ore”). Because the pencil core is still referred to as “lead”, or a “lead”, many people have the misconception that the graphite in the pencil is lead,
Around 1560, an Italian couple named Simonio and Lyndiana Bernacotti made what are likely the first blueprints for the modern, wood-encased carpentry pencil. Their version was a flat, oval, more compact type of pencil. Their concept involved the hollowing out of a stick of juniper wood. Shortly thereafter, a superior technique was discovered: two wooden halves were carved, a graphite stick inserted, and the halves then glued together essentially the same method in use to this day.
On 30 March 1858, Hymen Lipman received the first patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil. In 1862, Lipman sold his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000, who went on to sue pencil manufacturer Faber-Castell for infringement. In 1875, the Supreme Court of the US ruled against Reckendorfer declaring the patent invalid.
Types of Pencils.
These are the most common types of pencil, and are encased in wood. They are made of a mixture of clay and graphite and their darkness varies from light grey to black. Their composition allows for the smoothest strokes.
Solid graphite pencils
These are solid sticks of graphite and clay composite (as found in a ‘graphite pencil’), about the diameter of a common pencil, which have no casing other than a wrapper or label. They are often called “woodless” pencils. They are used primarily for art purposes as the lack of casing allows for covering larger spaces more easily, creating different effects, and providing greater economy as the entirety of the pencil is used. They are available in the same darkness range as wood-encased graphite pencils.
Liquid graphite pencils
These are pencils that write like pens. The technology was first invented in 1955 by Scripto and Parker Pens. Scripto’s liquid graphite formula came out about three months before Parker’s liquid lead formula. To avoid a lengthy patent fight the two companies agreed to share their formulas.
Are made of charcoal and provide fuller blacks than graphite pencils, but tend to smudge easily and are more abrasive than graphite. Sepia-toned and white pencils are also available for duotone techniques.
They generally are made of a mixture of clay and lamp black, but are sometimes blended with charcoal or graphite depending on the darkness and manufacturer. They produce a fuller black than graphite pencils, but are smoother than charcoal.
Coloured pencils, or pencil crayons.
These have wax-like cores with pigment and other fillers. Multiple colours are often blended together.
They write on virtually any surface (including glass, plastic, metal and photographs). The most commonly found grease pencils are encased in paper (Berol and Sanford Peel-off), but they can also be encased in wood (Staedtler Omnichrom).
These are designed for use with watercolour techniques. The pencils can be used by themselves for sharp, bold lines. Strokes made by the pencil can also be saturated with water and spread with brushes.
Manufacturers distinguish their pencils by grading them, but there is no common standard. Two pencils of the same grade but different manufacturers will not necessarily make a mark of identical tone nor have the same hardness.
Most manufacturers, and almost all in Europe, designate their pencils with the letters H (commonly interpreted as “hardness”) to B (commonly “blackness”), as well as F (usually taken to mean “fineness”, although F pencils are no more fine or more easily sharpened than any other grade. Also known as “firm” in Japan).
As of 2009, a set of pencils ranging from a very hard, light-marking pencil to a very soft, black-marking pencil usually ranges from softest to hardest as follows: