Before you begin to draw with graphite pencils, it is helpful to learn what each pencil grade means. Graphite artist pencils come in so many different grades it can be hard for a beginner to grasp and remember what each pencil grade indicates. Graphite pencils are coded universally, so that they are more easily identifiable.
The makeup of graphite art pencils is a combination of graphite and clay, usually in a wooden cylinder case.
The percentage of clay versus graphite in the mixture determines the grade of the graphite lead. A harder lead is denoted with an “H”-this mixture contains more clay than graphite, where as a softer lead is denoted with “B” for black-this mixture contains more graphite than clay. The HB pencil is in the middle and has equal amounts of clay and graphite.
You can use a harder lead, such as a 4H, to draw the lightest outlines and the most subtle gradations and a softer lead such as a 4B, for the darkest shadows in your drawings.
Even though there are nearly 20 different grades of graphite pencil, each producing a different range of value, if you utilize your pencils properly, you should only need to use a handful of the grades of graphite.
Some artists teach that to get the widest range of value all of the grades should be used. However when drawing with the 5-Pencil Method, only five pencil values are used. These are the pencil grades that will provide you with all of the range of value that you will need for realistic portraits and drawings, without compromising the quality and texture of your paper.
The technique uses the these five pencil grades-4H, 2H, HB, 2B, and 4B- and layers them one on top of another, until the intended value is reached.
When your graphite drawing turns out flat and overworked try these three tips to help give your drawing back its life.
Place the heal of your hand firmly on the drawing surface and hold your pencil at an angle of about 35 degrees. Your pencil should lightly sweep onto the surface of the paper as you make your stroke. It should land like an airplane and then sweep back off the surface with a follow through past its point of contact. The stroke should only be pulling in one direction, toward you, as the point of your pencil just grazes the surface of the paper. Be sure that you adjust your drawing to accommodate your stroke, but not necessarily your stroke to accommodate your drawing. To do this, rotate your drawing to take advantage of the natural curve and angle of your stroke. This will help you see the angles and shapes that are so important for creating correct proportions.
Make sure that the slightly curved and contoured line that you make with your stroke has a taper at both ends, This means that the line should be thinner and lighter at the beginning and end of your stroke with a gradual increase in value at the center as your pencil makes full contact with the drawing surface. This will also allow you to seamlessly extend lines of the same value, as tapered end overlaps tapered end. The taper is important to tackle, because it will make it much easier as you apply it to many aspects of your drawing. It will allow you to create incredible detail and bring a realistic quality to your rendering.
Instead of depending on pressure to make darker lines and values, you should add stroke on top of stroke to build values instead of merely pressing harder. The more pressure you add with a hard (or soft) pencil the more you increase the possibility of scoring or damaging your paper and it will become less likely that you are able to remove (erase) your mistakes or make modifications.