November 30, 2019

Become a Pencil Connoisseur

Become a Pencil Connoisseur

Become a Pencil Connoisseur

Graphite pencils are great for sketching or drawing because they produce grey or dark marks that are easily erased but otherwise resistant to moisture, most chemicals, ultraviolet radiation,  and natural aging.

Made with natural or synthetic graphite, a pencil's core is primarily made up of graphite powder mixed with a clay binder or wax to create a rod that is surrounded by cedarwood.

A Brief History of the Pencil

"Pencil lead" is not chemically made up of lead at all. The substance was named graphite, after the Greek word meaning "to write," since that's how people used the substance initially. We call it "lead" because the person who first discovered graphite believed they had found a significant resource of lead. More than 200 years later, an English scientist discovered that the substance was not actually the property of lead but a type of carbon instead. 1

During the 17th century, graphite and clay were grounded by hand, put into a cylindrical mold, and fired in a kiln to create the rods. Woodworkers milled cedar to sandwich the graphite in between, creating a crude version of what we now call a carpenter pencil.

Today, machines mass-produce pencils. The pencil's core is manufactured in various sizes. Most wooden pencils are mass-produced from large blocks of cedar cut into slats. A machine cuts eight grooves, half as deep as the graphite-clay rod is thick, into the slats and then places rods in each groove.

Different qualities of clay and graphite result in a wide range of textures and values (lightness or darkness). The amount of clay determines the hardness. The more clay, the harder the point and lighter the marks created by the pencil.

How to Navigate the Pencil Grading Scale

There are two pencil grading scales; both are used to measure the hardness (H), blackness (B), fine point (F), and size of the pencil's core. Pencils are usually stamped or marked with the grade. However, note that there are no industry standards for pencil graphite grades. Results will vary from brand to brand.

Pencil Grades

Pencil Swatches © 3

The International System uses numbers and letters that range from 10H, 9H, 8H, …, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, …, 8B, 9B going from hard graphite to soft. In this system, letters may be combined. For example, a pencil marked "HB" is hard and black. The U.S. system uses numbers only, no letters. The U.S. manufactured pencils usually have a shaft that is hexagonal shaped.2

Generally, an HB grade about the middle of the scale is considered a medium pencil, great for sketching, and dark enough to see clearly with minimal smudging. The correlation between the two systems is listed in the table below.

The U.S. International Description
#1 B 1x Black
#2 HB Hard & Black
#2½ F Fine Point
#3 H 1x Hard
#4 2H 2x Hard

The higher the number combined with "H," the harder the writing core and the lighter the mark on the paper will be. Hardness affects the pencil's strength, smoothness, smudge resistance, and pigmentation. Hard pencils are extremely smudge-resistant and well suited for precision in technical drawings. "F" indicates that the pencil sharpens to a fine point.

"B" stands for black, referring to the blackness or darkness of the pencil's mark. This also indicates a softer pencil as less clay has been added to the graphite core. Soft pencils are great for sketching because of the glide across the paper. However, note that some manufacturers include carbon into these pencils, making them darker, staining the paper, and harder to erase. Higher rated "B" pencils are best used for dark accents or finishing marks. Below is a grade, smudge, and eraser test provided by

Image ©JetPens.com4

A Unique Pencil Designed in the early 20th century.

The BLACKWING 602 has a unique tactile feel for anyone who sketches. It possesses the exceptional softness and smoothness of a 3B/4B type pencil but with the rate of wear that an HB pencil usually encounters.

The pencil flows nicely over the paper without a lot of pressure. However, you will get a darker and more precise mark when applying more pressure. It also has a unique flat square ferrule with an eraser that never falls out and is designed to be easily replaced.

Palomino BLACKWING 602 Pencil

A Brief History of the BLACKWING 602

The BLACKWING 602 pencil was designed uniquely for shorthand or stenography. It was introduced in the 1930s with the slogan "Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed," which appealed to any stenographer.

Stenography from the Greek stenos (narrow) and graphite (to write) was a writing process in shorthand before recording devices or dictation machines were invented. It used a symbolic writing method to increase the speed, and the brevity of writing compared to writing out each exact letter or complete word and was primarily used by journalists who needed to take notes at a press conference or write too quickly during an interview.

Fourth Generation Blackwing 602

BLACKWING 602 pencils were manufactured by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company from 1934 to 1988 and sold for 50 cents each. It was used by Chuck Jones, the "Father of Contemporary Animation" best known for his work with Warner Bros. on the Looney Tunes cartoons, starring Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, or the Road Runner.

BLACKWING 602 evolved from an office tool into an artist tool and quickly became synonymous with quality over the years. Pencils were then manufactured by Faber-Castell from 1988 to 1994 and by Sanford from 1994 to 1998.

However, when manufacturing ceased, bidding wars began on eBay for any existing pencils, where some paid up to $40 for one single BLACKWING 602. Giving it the unprecedented title of "the $40 pencil."

Palomino BLACKWING 602

A Revival of the BLACKWING 602

With family roots in the pencil industry dating back to the mid-19th century, Charles Berolzheimer becomes the founder of Palamino. Artists soon noticed that Palomino's range of premium pencils compared favorably to the BLACKWING 602. They began asking Palomino to consider reviving the Blackwing brand, complete with its defining rectangular eraser.

Charles Berolzheimer then used the company's unique supply relationships to re-introduce the BLACKWING 602 in 2010. This time, featuring California genuine incense cedar and premium Japanese graphite, launched exclusively on Since then, it has been distributed to retailers worldwide and received rave reviews from users.

Blackwing 602 Anatomy

Today, a portion of all BLACKWING 602 sales benefits the BLACKWING Foundation. Its mission is to support music and arts programs in public schools at the K-12 level. BLACKWING now has a following of people who like to unplug and engage with the physical world around them. One that values authenticity, simplicity, and, perhaps most of all, connection.

Suppose you really want to geek out on sharpening pencils. In that case, you should look at David Rees' book How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants.


  1. Contributors, H. S. W. (2019, May 1). How do they get lead in a wooden pencil? Retrieved November 30, 2019, from
  2. Rees, D. (2012). How to sharpen pencils: a Practical Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Pub.
  3. What is a No. 2 Pencil? (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2019, from
  4. The Best Lead Grade For Every Application. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2019, from

February 24, 2019

What is Gesture?

What is Gesture?
5 min Gesture Drawing

What is Gesture Drawing?

Gesture is a technique that will help you capture your first impressions and further articulate your message. It is also an abstract concept that tells the story.

This process is used to create a drawing quickly to express the intent or to capture the energy of a figure or subject's movement or motion. It usually contains what is called, the "line of action" which follows through the overall movement.

These quick sketches focus on the big picture, not the details. They are drawn within a short time (in as little as 10 seconds or up to 5 minutes).

Drawing from life is often preferred over a photographic reference. It allows views of the model from multiple angles and without distortion of the lens or poor lighting conditions.

Gesture and rhythm (from Greek rhythmos" any regular recurring motion") are often used interchangeably. We usually associate rhythm with a piece of music; however, rhythm can be found in everything in the visual arts. It can also be exaggerated to move the viewer's eye through an image.

All organics or living things within the natural world have rhythm. In landscape, you will find these repeated patterns in the sea, clouds, trees, or mountains.

In still life, look for recurring lines, shapes, values, or colors with a vital element of opposite or different conditions to create a sense of movement or pattern.

In figure drawing, it's the movement that connects contours, forms, or tones. Analyze motion within a series of model poses or by observing animals. You may have to exaggerate body language or the action in your drawing to get your point across.

The "Line of Action" or directional line of the pose connects the pose from head to toe. Look for the longest axis to find the fluid line of action that connects all parts.

The repetition of short drawings without pausing forces the artist to work intuitively. The other benefits of gesture drawing are self-training. It will improve your ability to draw.

January 29, 2019

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!
Value & Shape

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

What does it all mean? Let's explore with a good understanding of 'value.'

Any 2D image, including drawings, paintings, or photographs, can be defined or described by shapes in various contrasting values. 'Value' is a characteristic of color. It refers to the lightness or darkness of any single color swatch.

Tonal relationships, especially with various values, help us understand what we see in the world around us. Our vision uses the contrast of value to determine one object from another, especially in a low lighting situation when we cannot see the 'hue' or color.

Underneath every great painting is a contrast of light & dark values. Otherwise, shapes blend together. In this example, the original painting has a full range of values. Values are reduced to a limited value scale in the second image, using only mid-tones.

Without a full range of values, shapes appear to blur together, leaving little information for the viewer to distinguish one from another. A more comprehensive range of values is needed to convey this particular scene on a bright sunny day.

'Value' defines shape & form, not the brightness or dullness of the color or the hue. It's the lightness or darkness. Value does all the work to distinguish shape & form, but hue gets all the credit!

Value does all the work but, hue gets all the credit!

When we first learn to draw, we ignore all of the other characteristics of color, except value. It helps us simplify the complex observation process, which allows us to focus on getting the shapes accurate before mastering color.


Achromatic literally means "no color" or "without color." Graphite or charcoal drawings are 'achromatic' or without color, i.e., grayscale in black and white.


Monochromatic uses 'mono' or one hue or color only. White is mixed with lightening or 'tint' the color, and black is mixed with darkening or creating a 'shade' of the color.

A monochromatic color scheme uses only one hue or color but needs a variety of lightness and darkness to convey shape to the viewer. Monochromatic color schemes naturally create harmony. They are soothing, elegant, and easy on our eyes.

Monochromatic color scheme


Chromatic means having color or multiple hues relating to or produced by color. 'Chroma' is the purity or intensity of color. It refers to the brightness or dullness of any color.

January 2, 2019

The Anatomy of Shadows

What lurks in the shadows? A higher contrast of lights and darks than any local color. Shadows tell us a lot. Sometimes the form or shape of an object is revealed more by its shadow than the object itself.

The Anatomy of Shadows

Form vs. Cast Shadows

In representational art, there are two shadow types: form shadows and cast shadows. The form shadow is found in a place where the object turns away from the light source on the object itself. It includes the core shadow and reflected light. (see the Anatomy of Light & Shadow).

Always make sure that every form of shadow has a well-articulated core shadow to tell the viewer where the object turns in space. Core shadows are an essential feature in creating the volume or structure of an object.

Cast shadows are created by the object, blocking a single light source or spotlight, which "casts" a shadow underneath or behind it. Every cast shadow can be broken down into three different tones.

The Anatomy of a Cast Shadow

The umbra, penumbra, and antumbra are three distinct parts of a shadow created by any light source after impinging on an opaque object.

The UMBRA (Latin for "shadow") is the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object. It is the innermost & darkest part of the cast shadow. It includes the occlusion shadow, which is directly underneath the object. It is closest to the object, where the light is entirely blocked by the object itself.

The PENUMBRA (from the word "paene," Latin for "almost, nearly") is the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. It is the region in which some light sources are leaking back in due to reflected light. Light bounces off of other objects or even the surface underneath, and it starts to contaminate the shadow. It becomes lighter than the umbra region.

The ANTUMBRA (from the word "ant" Latin for "opposing") is the region from which the occluding body appears entirely within the disc of the light source. It is the lightest region of the cast shadow and has the softest edges of all three zones.

A great way to mentally check your drawing or painting is to use the "Shadow Checklist.' Make sure that the shadows have all of the following characteristics.

Shadow Checklist

Shadow Diagram

1. DARK - Shadows are "darker than," not just DARK or a darker version of the local color. Ensure the reflected light is darker within the form shadow, or the structure could fall apart.

2. EDGES – Shadows have softer edges, even more so in the cast shadow than the form shadow. As the cast shadow moves further away from the object, the edges become softer and softer.

3. ECHO - Form shadows echo or mirror the form of the object that they represent (i.e., a form shadow on a sphere has a round shape, the rounder the shape, the more concave the form shadow should be).

4. PASSIVE – Shadows are passive. They have little or no texture. Smooth out brush strokes or pencil marks compared to the lighted texture area.

5. ARTICULATED – Cast Shadows should have a definite shape and be well articulated. Sometimes an object's form reads more from its cast shadow than its local color.