Pencil Portrait Drawing Tips on Supplies

Pencil Portrait Drawing Tips on Supplies

Whether or not your pencil portrait turns out to be a masterpiece depends to a large extend on the type and quality of your drawing tools. This is, of course, true for any craft. In this article, I will present an overview of the tools the professional pencil artist uses when drawing a pencil portrait.

What do you need to draw pencil portraits? The bare minimum is a pencil and a piece of paper. Needing hardly any equipment is an advantage but also a disadvantage. Drawing is to the arts what boxing is to sports. The fewer tools you have the more skilled you need to be to stand out. Therefore, as a pencil artist, it is particularly important that  you use the right tools of the right quality. 

Below, I present just about every piece of drawing equipment you will ever need.  Study the list and then pick and choose depending on your style and ambitions:

* Pencils. Drawing pencils, in general, come in degrees of softness and hardness:

9H, 8H, …, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, …, 8B, 9B

where 9H is the hardest and 9B is the softest. The F pencil is the odd duck in the line. It yields fairly fine and soft lines and is often used to draw hair. The HB pencil separates the hard H pencils from the softer B pencils.

To start, you may want to try the 2H (hard), HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B (soft) pencils. Later, with some experience, you can always reevaluate your choice.

* Paper. Try out a number of differently textured papers. For portraits, I prefer a 2-ply Bristol, acid-free, heavyweight, smooth surface. But your choice should be dictated by your own style or just by whether or not you enjoy a particular paper surface.

* Drawing Board. A 1/4 inch tempered Masonite or Plexiglas board of at least 16 x 20 inches will do.

* Clips or Masking Tape. You use these to fix the paper on your drawing board and come in handy in all sorts of other situations. I use a lot of them.

* Maulstick. This stick is used to steady your hand and to avoid smudging of your work.

* Broom. A desk broom is used to occasionally brush debris off your work. This also avoids smudges and save time because you have to erase less.

* Sheet of Bond Paper. You put this sheet under your drawing hand, again to avoid smudging your drawing while you are working.

* Pencil Sharpener. You will need a sturdy small one for the road and an industrial strength electric one for your studio.

* Workable Fixative. This is a spray used to fix the finished portrait. This protects the drawing and makes it safe for future smudging.

* Erasers. You need two types: 1. A vinyl one and; 2. a kneaded one.  A vinyl eraser is the usual hard rectangular kind. A kneaded eraser is the gray kind that acts like putty.

* Ruler. A regular 12 inch metal ruler will do. Make sure you can easily read the divisions on the ruler.

* Blending Tortillons. These are spiral-wound cones of paper used to blend a darker region into a lighter one.

* Paper Tissue. You use tissue paper as another blending tool.

That’s about it. As you practice (yes, practice), you should try out some of the above tools and see if they fit with your mode of drawing. Be flexible but try to work towards a final style of pencil portrait drawing that feels comfortable to you and involves a subset of the above mentioned tools used in a practiced and almost unconscious manner.

Remi Engels, Ph.D., is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter. He is also the author of a popular Pencil Portrait Drawing Course. Get Your Free copy here: Remi’s Pencil Portrait Drawing Course while supplies last.

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