This very comprehensive, fluff-free, video explores the differences between the grades - soft to hard. Two exercises help you explore the darkness and range of tones each grade can produce. Mike explains...


Introduction to first steps in drawing


An introduction to the way most people see and the how an artists sees - icon-free and in depth. And how being an artist displays the world around you in a new light.
An explanation of the chisel point on a pencil

The Chisel Point

The basic forming of a chisel point and why its use is beneficial when compared to a standard sharp needle point.
Value and Weight of pencil lines explained

Weight and Value explained

While exploring the different qualities of line produced by hard and soft grades, and the chisel point's flat face and edge, Mike explains the terms "weight" and "value".
Exploring soft and hard pencil grades

Exploring values and grades

An exercise for you to try that will show you the dark values that each of your pencil grades can produce. Mike also explains why strong darks are important to the success of your drawings.
How and why you should avoid gaps in your pencil shading

Avoiding gaps in shading

Mike explains, with a custom graphic, why you should remove all gaps and holes in your shading - and the adverse effect that gaps have.
Exploring pencil line weight and gradated shading

Exploring weight and gradations

Another exercise that will help you explore the full range of values each grade of lead can produce. And more advice on removing gaps in your shading.
Which pencil grades to use for any desired effect

Choosing the right grade

Some grades are grainy and others are smoother. Mike explains how to decide which grade to use for any desired effect - even though the value might be identical, the perceived surface is more realistic.

Watch the 2-minute PREVIEW:

First Steps
Duration :
10 mins
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Applying what I learned in this video makes a HUGE difference in my artwork, especially learning to make my darks really dark. Thanks Mike! Margaret


This is what most people see when they look at a tree. It's a quickly recognised icon, and it's what many will draw. And this is how an artist sees it. Mastering drawing - realistic drawing - can be a long journey, but every journey begins with the first step.

The more you draw, the more you can't help looking deeper into the world around you. You'll learn to experience the world as you've never experienced it before. However, to translate your new vision to paper you need to learn the basic techniques, and then practice them until they become second-nature.

So, get to know your tools - your pencils - and discover what each can do - and how each of them performs.

To help increase the possible marks made by each pencil use a versatile point. Sharp needle points:
  • Snap easily
  • Wear quickly
  • Draw only a thin line
  • Require constant re-sharpening, which breaks your concentration and flow.
I use the chisel point and I suggest you do too. Basically, it looks like this: it has a flat face and a sharp edge. When I mention either, now you'll know what I'm referring to. The flat face of a chisel point draws:
  • Broad lines, then rotate the pencil to draw...
  • Thin lines, using the sharp edge.
  • The broad lines are soft-edged, and the edge lines are sharp and hard.
  • It's self-sharpening. Each use of the flat face automatically sharpens the edge.
Whatever point you use, experiment to find the varieties of line that each pencil grade can make.

This is a 2B with normal weight. Weight means how much or little pressure you apply.
This is a 2B flat face but this time with light weight. And this is a 2B but this time using the edge of the point with a normal weight. And a slight rotation keeps the line sharp, unlike a sharp point that blunts quickly.

Now let's try a hard grade. This is a 2H. As you can see, changing the weight creates a variety of effects and values. Value, also known as Tone, refers to the relative darkness or lightness of the mark or area of shading. As you decrease the weight, you decrease, or lighten, the value. It's why we only need every other grade. And, as you'll see, different grades produce different qualities of line.

Soft grades - the B's - draw with soft edges. Hard grades - the H's - draw lines with hard or sharp edges. They contain more clay and don't crumble like the soft grades do. Follow along with the next exercise - you need to, because only experience will teach you how each of your pencils performs on your paper. That's the marks and values each can create.

Draw five boxes, about 1 inch (2.5cm) square, than label them 4B to 4H. First, fill the 4B box, and make it black! There's no need to be tidy, just fill it in. Why not 6B or 8B? Well, try them. You might like them. Personally, I find them to too grainy.

Is that as dark as it could be? Probably not! Let's try again. Use layers, and pressure if you need to. Don't be afraid to use pressure, as long as you don't damage the paper. But if you do damage it, you'll now know its limits. There's a reason I'm insisting on your blacks being black. They need to be as dark as possible, because they will:
  • Add impact and presence to your work.
  • The three-dimensional information will be increased by the strong contrast and shadows.
  • You'll have a much wider range of values to work with.
Your drawing has to be between the white of your paper and your darkest value. If the darkest value is mid-grey, you'll only have white to mid-grey to work with - and that tends to produce a very flat drawing.

When your 4B is sufficiently black, repeat it with your 2B. Try to get that black too. Now your HB. Now your 2H. And your 4H. But don't use too much weight with your hard H grades. They will indent your paper, and they might damage it. And indented lines cannot be erased. I'm using a broad flat face for this 4H to ensure it won't damage the paper. I can feel it skating over the surface. If it had a sharp edge or a sharp point - particularly a sharp point - it's far more likely to dig in and start to raise the fibres.

A word of warning: don't leave gaps. Simply... don't! Our eyes read an average value and gaps dilute the dark value you intended. You can shade in any direction: vertically, horizontally, diagonally... do whatever it takes to remove gaps and holes. And circular shading will approach every hole from every angle. It's very effective. Even if you only shade on one direction, go back and fill the gaps.

Here's the effect that gaps create. We see a mid-grey but this has alternate black lines and grey gaps. Now let's begin to darken those gaps... As it becomes darker, notice even the smallest grey content lightens what we see. Now that's black - and the blacks didn't alter. We only altered the grey gaps. So, try to make your shading solid.

Now you have an idea of how each grade performs, it's time to look at adjusting the weight - how much or how little pressure is applied. That is what creates the different effects and values. Draw five long boxes, about three by three-quarter inches (7.5 by 2cm), and label them 4B to 4H. Begin at one end of the 4B box - at the left-hand end if you're right-handed. Create a dark line, as dark as you drew in the previous boxes. Now aim to reduce the value to white as you shade towards the other end. Again, don't try to be tidy. This is just an exercise in finding what your pencils can do. As you shade across, just reduce the weight. You have the white to refer to all the time, so aim to be half-way between black and white near the middle. As you gradually reduce the weight, towards the end you should be just grazing the surface. And use a flat face so your lines merge together. That's especially true of the H's - the hard grades.

Again, remove the gaps. You can shade to the right using less and less weight, and then shade back to the left using more weight. Repeat that until the gaps have been removed, and it will also smooth your shading. Here's a tip: when you're trying to remove a gap, instead of trying to match your shading to the value on either side of it, as you approach it look at the gap. Don't look at the line you're drawing; look at the gap. You'll just watch it grow darker until it disappears. That's because the feedback from your brain to your hand will be focused on the value of the gap, and not on what you're drawing.

When you've finished, compare each box to the one above and below. You'll notice that each grade reproduces at least half of the values of the adjacent grades. Try to match the value of the left-hand end of the 4H box all the way up to 4B. Notice also how the harder H grades are smoother. That's because they contain more clay. And the softer B grades are coarser and grainier. You can use that to your advantage. For example, if you're drawing a rough surface, use a soft grade. You'll get that grainy appearance. And if you're drawing a smooth surface, such as glass or shiny china, or chromed metal or water, use a hard grade. You'll achieve a much smoother finish. The values might be identical but the perceived texture is being made very clear.

For example, here the sky needs to be smooth, so I used a hard grade - a 2H in this case. The same applies to the water. You expect it to be smooth. And the wet mud looks grainy because I used a soft grade.

© copyright: Mike Sibley 2018

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