A sketch acts as an emotion conveying medium when an individual expresses his views, ideologies through it. For this he needs keep his weapons and shields ready. Here the sketching medium is pencil or charcoal which acts as a weapon and the base on which the sketch is done acts as a shield.

Shade pencils used for sketching

A pencil is the most common sketching tool used by an artist to portray his thoughts on a canvas. A pencil is a pencil, isn’t it, but for an artist, it’s not just a piece of wood he’s holding between his fingers but a medium to express him. But the choice becomes really difficult when one has to choose from a wide variety of graphite pencils available in the market.

Usually, the pencils are marked with an H, a B, or both like 4H, 2H, 2B, 4B, etc. They are just indicators of how hard the pencil lead is. The spectrum usually reads from B to H, such as 9B, 8B, 7B, 6b, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, 1B, HB, 1H, 2H, 3H, etc. A full set pencil will range from 9B to 9H. The range you need depends upon the sketch made by you. H stands for the hardness of lead and B stands for blackness.

Which pencils are used for sketching?

H pencil

It is hard. You can make clean, sharp and light lines with it. They are ideal sketching, architectural drawings, and product sketching. As the pencil gets harder it becomes more difficult to blend or smudge. They leave deep marks on the paper which is difficult to cover so one should be careful while using them.

The more H’s, the harder the pencil is. This implies that a 2H is softer than a 4H therefore; 4H is lighter than 2H. Likewise, the 9H is the hardest and lightest graphite pencil available.

B pencil

t is soft. You can make dull and dark lines with it. It can fill in space, blend, and shade and add texture to your sketching as they deposit more graphite with less effort. It is the best pencil used for shading and drawing portraits.

The more is the increase in the numerical value of B the softer the pencil becomes. This means that a 2B is harder than a 5B and the 5B will produce a darker mark. The 7B is the softest and darkest among common pencils, though you might come across an 8B or a 9B pencil as well.

HB pencil

It is hard and black. It creates hard and relatively dark lines.

F point pencil-

Here F means fine point. It is a hard pencil which is easy to sharpen but is too hard for general sketching.

A sharp pencil for sketching

A few tips before you start sketching using the pencil

  1. Organize your pencils from hardest (H’s) to softest (B’s).

  2. One by one, draw a small patch of shading in a single layer with each pencil. 

Shading with one pencil

A sketch of tiger with pencil

If you are using a single HB pencil, it might happen that your sketches lack the depth. The HB pencil is basically used to frame outlines and shade lighter areas, as to produce faint lines much effort is not required. But to shade darker areas a lot of effort will be required. It will require a lot of pressure and you can most probably damage the paper.

Shading with a variety of pencils

When you are using a variety of pencils make sure each pencil should cover the required proportion of the shading areas. To achieve a lighter or darker shade the varied usage of pencils helps to a great extent because you can create the right effect with less effort.  And if you need to make light cross-hatching marks, just grab the perfect H pencil for the job.

Charcoal used for sketching

Charcoal is perfect for allowing a beginning artist to perfect their technique and practice their craft as it has a unique look and texture when applied to paper.  It is also a versatile medium. You can create extremely realistic, sensitive drawings with it. There are 3 main types of charcoal (powdered, compressed, and willow/vine) and each produce different effects.

Powdered Charcoal:

It is the most basic powdered form of charcoal. It will give a softer look and is ideal for toning large areas. The only drawback is that it tends to be very messy.

Compressed Charcoal:

When the powdered charcoal is bound with gum or wax, and you get a compressed charcoal. The amount of powdered charcoal and the binding agent used determines the softness of the charcoal. Compressed charcoal is a little harder than vine and willow sticks. Because of its hardness, compressed charcoal can be sharpened, producing finer detailed lines. Its darker lines and break-resistant qualities increase its demand. The only drawback is that it is more difficult to erase and can bleed if wet media is placed on top.

Willow/Vine Charcoal:

When the grape vines and willow branches are burnt to a specific hardness such kind of charcoal is obtained. You can easily erase it. They are perfect for sketching a composition on canvas prior to painting. It is very light and produces soft, powdery lines.


Working with charcoal can get dirty, particularly if you are using the softer varieties. Because of this reason, many people choose to use a holder made of either plastic or metal for the charcoal. Even to make your charcoal piece live a little longer, it is a better option which can extend its life, while making it easy to hold.

A charcoal for sketching


How to blend charcoal

I do not advise the use of fingers to blend the shaded areas. It gets messy and the oils from your fingers can darken the charcoal. Instead, use blending stumps. These tools made of tightly wrapped papers that are ideal for blending.

A few tips before you start sketching using charcoal

  1. Charcoal can be used to do the basic drawings of a painting on canvas. With the help of your charcoal stick, you can fill in the major areas of a subject.
  2. If you’re using charcoal sticks wrap aluminum foil around the end of the stick to hold in your hand to keep them clean.


A sketch made using charcoal


A beautiful sketch using charcoal

The pencil is great for preliminary sketches, but when it comes to expressive sketches I always reach for my stick of charcoal!