Know Your Pencils

Know Your Pencils | Everything You Should Know About Drawing Pencils

We use pencils everyday but how much do you actually know about your drawing pencils?

Pencils or to be more specific, graphite pencils have been in use for the last 500 years or so. The history of the pencil is interesting and is rooted in the discovery of graphite in a specific region of England. The mining of graphite there soon became very important to England and actually influenced the country’s foreign policy, economics, and manufacturing process of certain weapons.

It took a few centuries for the pencil to evolve into the modern drawing pencil you use today for creating your artwork.


What Is a Pencil Made Of?

The pencil you are familiar with is made of clay and graphite at its core, or “lead”.   Also, some wax is used to coat the pencil lead for added smoothness in writing and drawing. The pencil lead is then placed in between two wooden halves which, once glued together form the outer shaft of the pencil. Usually cedar wood is used for this purpose  because cedar is soft and is not prone to splintering once the pencil is sharpened. Pencils are typically painted, labeled and occasionally the addition of a rubber eraser is added to one end. Most high quality drawing pencils do not have an eraser added to them.


Pencil Grades

Because the drawing part of a pencil consists of clay and graphite, manufacturers can alter the amount of each ingredient to control how soft or how hard the pencil lead will be. This hardness factor ultimately affects a pencil’s capacity to draw light or dark marks. The pencil scale below explains what pencils are good for:

Know Your Pencils |The Pencil Scale |


For more advice on what pencils to buy and how to use them check out my drawing post on the pencil scale.


Super Pencils

While all artists should have an assortment of quality drawing pencils (the kind with the wooden exterior), it is advantageous at times to have some other forms of graphite as well. Mechanical pencils are great for detailed portions of drawings or any type of drawing that requires many consistent lines to be drawn.

Did you know that most art stores sell woodless pencils? Woodless pencils look like a regular pencil at first glance but under closer examination you will see that a woodless pencil is actually a solid hunk of the pencil lead. Woodless pencils usually have a thin plastic wrapper encasing the drawing portion of the pencil.

Get the idea out of your head that working with pencils have to be in a stick form only! You can incorporate graphite powder along with all your other graphite drawing pencils.


How Do You Draw?

If you still draw using only that one regular pencil you are seriously missing out. You’re missing out on the range of values from dark to light that your drawing could achieve. Limiting yourself to one pencil is also limiting your artistic development of techniques and exploration.

In the least you should always have a range of pencils from “H” to “B“.  Read this for a quick lesson in pencil drawing best practices.


What kind of pencils do you like to draw with? Let us know below!






  1. Personally either HB pencils or pencils that are light because they are easy to erase 🙂

    1. John Morfis says:

      Awesome, just remember the lighter the pencil (especially H-pencils), the harder the lead is and they can scratch up your paper so be careful!

  2. This really helped me with my drawing I need help learning and these tips helped me understand my pencils better I usually just use the HB but I’ve decided to try out other pencils I’m a thirteen year old girl from Nigeria and I love drawing.. anyway I love this Post

    1. John Morfis says:

      This is wonderful! Best of luck to you and your new drawing hobby.

  3. I am a semi beginner at drawing. I feel I need to know more before I can do more. Thank you so much

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