Step-by-step: Using a full range of Graphic Pencils by Alexis Marcou

Using a full range of Graphic Pencils by Alexis Marcou

Like a builder having only a flathead screwdriver in his toolbox, only have one pencil in your creative palette seems like an extremely unlikely and unnerving situation for an artist with experience.

However, possibly through fear or possibly through a misunderstanding of how the varying graphites differ, people will generally use three pencils to cover their whole needs, meaning images often losing their shape, dimension and realism.

To get to grips with graphite, you must firstly understand what each pencil grade stands for and its properties.

Graphite pencils run across a 24-pencil spectrum from 9B to 9H, sandwiching HB and F in the middle. The spectrum runs in two directions and this is where confusion often sets in.

The 9B pencils has a soft graphite but a darker colour laydown, whilst the 9H has a harder lead but a softer colour laydown.

Although the difference between a 9B and 8B is gradual, in a spectrum, you can clearly tell the difference. The difference in shade means you can create depth, layers and detailing images that would have previously been one dimensional and flat.

What’s more, it ultimately saves the lives of your pencils too. It’s a common myth that one pencil can do the work of 24, just by altering the pressure of the pencil, so often artists will add a huge amount of pressure to their lead and end up snapping the sharp tip, losing the ability to create different textures with the now blunted lead.

For those fearful of using a full range of pencils, my top tip is don’t be! It’s best to create a relationship with your pencils: get to know their lead, their shape and how they can be used. Start with those you don’t know – like at a party and work your way back to your old faithful. You never know, you might pick up a new friend along the way.

Some more tips:

Create a small colour chart of each pencil, with small squares demarcating the shade of each pencil. It’ll really keep your mind focused on the performance of each grade.


  1. However, don’t be scared not to use all the pencils as well. I know this goes against the grain of what this blog is about, but don’t feel you have to use every pencils for every artwork you create. You wouldn’t needlessly add a colour to your artwork, so there’s no need to do it with graphite pencils.
  2. But there are some cases, when you do use a full range, that it gives the drawing an incomparable depth, that when you stand back and admire your finished piece, you can see the difference in shade and shape, detailing and intentional blank spaces.
  3. When creating, it’s best to avoid adding almost any pressure on to your paper, especially those of a thinner grain. I do this while working for clients as it gives me the ability to change things when they require alterations, be they additions or removals. By using the pencils in this manner, I can remove almost every mark with a simple eraser before reworking with a different pencils stroke.

Like any master craftsman, be they a football tactician, a famous musician, a painter or an artist, it’s always better to know that you have more tools to trial, test and use than not. It’s ideal for me to use when working on a tight deadline as it gives me the option to be adaptable and come with a varying array of solutions. Knowing that I have a 9H available helps give me a little more detailing on the drawing, especially around those mid-stage ‘rough edges.’ My 9H works slightly different, as I don’t tend to use it as a pencil. Due to the 9H’s harder lead and lighter colours, the pencils works ideally as a blender, perfect for manipulating the softer grades into one another and getting them to mix and blend.

So get to know your pencils inside and out; trial and error is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve got to mine over my creative career and I feel I can see the opportunities to create the effect I want, be it a long lead time or a tighter deadline. Once you’ve achieved this, the world is your oyster and a wealth of options are available for you to create.

And my favourite of all:

I really do appreciate each pencil equally and see the benefits in using each grade, for tone, mood, movement, energy or simply a sense a grandeur. But my favourite, as it’s the one I use the most due to its mid-range shade, will still be my old trusty 2H!

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