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So You Want to Draw - Are all Pencils the Same?

As humans, we've been expressing ourselves through art since ancient times. One of the most fundamental and versatile forms of artistic expression is drawing. The process of putting pencil, pen, or other implements to paper allows us to convey emotions, ideas, and stories visually. But, with so many drawing materials available, it can be overwhelming for beginners and even experienced artists to choose the right tools for their creative journey. In this blog post, I'm going to explore the different kinds of drawing materials you can use, each offering unique qualities and potential for artistic expression.


Pencils are perhaps the most common drawing tool and a great starting place for beginners. They come in various hardness grades, ranging from 9H (the hardest) to 11B (the softest). A higher H-grade produces lighter lines, while a higher B-grade results in darker, softer lines. The standard HB pencil offers a balanced medium grade. And then you have the F Pencil - my personal favourite when it comes to drawing.

The drawing below is the beginnings of my latest drawing. All the lighter lines are drawn up using the F pencil. As you can see it gives a very light line which of course makes erasing much easier. The F pencil is very hard which enables you to create this light line while employing very little pressure. The only down side of it is that if you press too hard you will score the paper so do not attempt to make darker lines with it.

drawing demonstration using the F pencil
Create light lines using an F pencil

Different Pencil Brands:

Staedtler have two very different pencil types there's the Staedtler Traditional Pencils VS the Staedtler Mars Lumograph. There’s a big difference in how they feel to work with and the work they produce. The Lumograph has a finer and smoother graphite composition. It lays down a much thicker and richer line giving more control and is just luscious and workable - more suitable for fine art and technical use. These are my go to pencils although I also love a fairly recent addition to the market which is the BLACKWING range of pencils.

Staedtler Pencils, lumograph lumograph black
Staedtler Pencils

Several pencil companies have different pencil ranges - a lower and cheaper/more accessible range like the JasArt range, is more student art oriented. In these pencils you may find the graphite core has more filler than the high end and more expensive pencils. As with all art materials, the cheaper they are, the more fillers or inferior pigments they will contain, which often makes for false economy in buying them. The Lumograph are excellent pencils.

Blackwing Pencils matt, natural
Blackwing Pencils

Graphite Sticks: Then we have Graphite sticks which are solid chunks of graphite without a wooden casing. They are available in different degrees of hardness as well and are great for covering large areas quickly and achieving broad, expressive strokes. These are usually employed on bigger drawings.

Graphite Stick drawing pencils
Graphite Stick

Charcoal: Charcoal is a favorite medium for artists seeking dramatic, bold, and smudgy effects. It comes in three forms: vine charcoal (soft and easily smudged), compressed charcoal (darker and denser), and charcoal pencils (which offer more control and precision). Charcoal is great for creating large expressive pieces, however it is fairly messy to use. If you don't like getting your hands dirty, then charcoal is probably not for you.

Many years ago I had a go at making my own willow charcoal. In order to do this I had to first go and clips the branches of some of the Willow trees we had growing on our property at the time. Then I got an old tin can and trimmed the branches so they would fit inside the can and then cut the Willow branches just size. These branches were about as thick as my ring finger. They do shrink a lot , so cut the branches according to how thick you want your finished charcoal stick to be. Once that was done I had to light a fire out in the paddock, I guess you could probably do it in a barbeque if you wanted to. After this I put the lid back on the tin can and wrapped the whole thing tightly in tinfoil . Then the tin was put into the fire once it had burnt down to smoldering coals.

The fire had to be tended for some hours, I forget how long it took now, although I know it was quite a while. Eventually the Willow sticks turned into charcoal!

Russell Mullin, charcoal in a tin
Finished Charcoal - Image by Russell Mullin

If you are interested in doing this there are several good YouTube videos available on the subject and I've shared one of them below.

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