A Smart Approach to Pencil Drawing

Learn why you shouldn’t be using your eraser and why you need to take a completely different approach to your pencil drawings. In this post I’ll reveal some professional secrets to creating velvety smooth pencil drawings.

When using graphite pencils it is wise to start off lightly. Try to make your initial marks so light that they are barely visible! This will limit the amount of erasing you do and that is a good thing. Excessive erasing destroys a paper’s tooth. A paper’s tooth is its textured surface. Paper has a semi-regular tooth to it; it has a fairly even texture that holds on to the drawing media when you draw; in our case pencil. Try drawing on something with almost no tooth such as glass and you’ll see the importance tooth plays in a paper’s surface. Heavy or excessive erasing mangles the paper thereby making the paper’s surface flat in some spots, jagged in others, while leaving the tooth unscathed elsewhere. This makes it very difficult for you to get predictable results from your paper. Pencil drawings created on top of heavily erased paper can often look disjointed. This is the result of the different paper tooths or lack thereof in the completed drawing. Preserving the natural tooth of the paper is a good idea; it helps unify your drawing and allows you to control the medium with predictability.

It’s All in the Layering

As your drawing progresses you will want to darken certain areas. You can do this by adding layers to the existing shaded areas that you wish to make darker. Working with layers of pencil is a very safe way to draw and I highly recommend it. Although it takes a while to complete a drawing, the results from layered graphite are astounding. Alternatively, pressing harder will also make darker marks but one should use caution when doing so. Never try to get the darkness just right with one try. It’s generally a good idea to underestimate the darkness you are striving to achieve by shading areas lighter than they ideally should be. Afterwards you can add additional layers of pencil on top and even press a little bit harder to finally arrive at the darkness your drawing needs.

This is where having a range of pencils becomes very handy. Considering the range of capabilities possible with several H and B pencils it’s a good idea to start drawing with a lighter/harder pencil and finish with a darker/softer pencil.

A Winning Approach to Pencil Drawing

A fantastic workflow might sound like this (using 2H HB 2B 4B 6B 8B):

  1. Lightly sketch out your still life with a 2H pencil making sure your lines are barely visible.
  2. Next, make your corrections with an HB pencil. The corrections can be a tad bit darker; this will obscure your original lines limiting the amount of erasing you need to do if any erasing at all.
  3. Afterwards, you begin to shade in areas of the drawing with the HB pencil very lightly and even though you can see that some objects will be really dark, close to black even, you resist making them that dark at this stage of the drawing.
  4. You continue adding a few more layers to each object that needs to get darker and possibly make some more corrections to your objects.
  5. Next your reach for your 2B pencil and continue shading in the objects that need to get darker, in fact, unless something is very close to white you’ll probably find that a delicate use of a 2B pencil is required in many areas.
  6. Your pencil drawing is really starting to look good now as your light areas remain light and your darks are getting even darker. You continue this layering process working with the next darker pencil in your collection, a 4B pencil. You use it on top of the layers that need to get darker still.
  7. You repeat this process with the 6B pencil and finally the 8B pencil and realize that only a few areas actually need that 8B pencil but, to your amazement, everything seems to have that pop once you have added those few extreme darks!

While results may vary and conditions do occasionally change, this is the typical workflow my drawing students experience when they draw a still life with graphite pencils. It takes time but, like most things in this world worth perusing, it is worth the wait.


Creating your first few drawings using a range of graphite pencils will make you feel right at home. You have used pencils before so you won’t have to concentrate too much on technique. You can devote most of your energy to making astute observations regarding your subject matter rather than wrestling with the materials. Once you get comfortable working from a still life and you get a feel for comparing proportions and a sense for light and dark it would be a good idea to try some charcoal next, which I’ll be talking about in great depth during another post.


I’d love to hear about your experiences with pencil. Let us know below!


  1. April Cook says:

    I really like the workflow example that you give. It is interesting to learn more about the artistic process and see how drawings are created. At the moment I’m not a very good artist, but I love collecting art. It’s amazing how beautiful a simple pencil sketch can be. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. This was so helpful thank you soooo much!

    1. John Morfis says:

      Oh, you’re very welcome Shanice!

  3. One of the best pencil instructions online !

    1. John Morfis says:

      That’s some hight praise Alan…thanks!

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