After the dizzying heights of learning to use technology over the last few weeks ( see ‘Take Two’ & ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’ blogs), this time I am well and truly coming back down to earth in celebration of the humble pencil. It is one of my favourite tools and one I turn to regularly when I want to do something quiet and gentle.
That however, does not mean that the pencil is a lightweight tool! I am often amazed and delighted by the range of mark making and tone that can be achieved with a pencil.
I find it such a relaxing process and often draw not just for sketching exercises before painting, but also for finished art works in their own right.
I have tried lots of different types of pencil in the past but ultimately I always come back to graphite. I usually work with 2H, HB, 2B and 3B, using the 2H initially to sketch out lightly the composition and key elements, then start using the HB to build up the detail. I have found out recently that, in pencils, the graphite is mixed with clay: the H part of the grade indicating more clay in the core, which makes a finer, lighter line that is less smudgy, and the B indicating more graphite than clay in the core producing darker, softer lines that can be smudged beautifully. I tend to use pencils encased in wood in the studio but do have a small range of mechanical pencils to use en plein air as they do not need sharpening.
I enjoy the calming effect of sketching, exploring different mark making to indicate texture and surface. I have also explored different ways of holding the pencil to make different shapes or marks, from very expressive to very detailed, and in developing skills to build a wide range of tones.
I also like the way the graphite can be smudged for a smooth effect or gradient in tone and using a rubber to define shape, add highlights or to emphasise negative spaces. I have tried using an electric eraser, which is supposed to be useful for erasing a small area with accuracy, but more often than not I just use a plastic eraser, cut up into different sizes, and my particular favourite – an ultrafine mono eraser.
And ultimately, I just really like the look of the final black and white image which helps to describe the subject in a different way giving me another visual form to express my artistic voice. It is like these different forms of image provide different timbres to a visual voice and for me, although it might look tight and formal because of the detail, pencil is a timbre that expresses simple freedom.
With a small set of relatively cheap pencils, a plastic rubber and a pad of cartridge paper, an artist has the basic tools to develop a lot of important skills in creating art and exploring their visual voice, and the power of seemingly simple tools should never be underestimated.