In this pencil drawing lesson, we’ll focus on the importance of mark-making.
Mark-making is the expression we use to describe the process of applying pencil to paper.
You can improve your pencil drawing skills by carefully considering your pencil and how it hits the page.
Controlling and exploiting the possibilities of the mark is an important step in developing as an artist.
Chisel-point or blunt pencils are useful for some techniques, but for most pencil drawing, keep your pencil sharp.
Don’t worry about ‘wasting’ graphite in the sharpener – better than wasting your drawing efforts!
Brighten the point by rubbing the side of the pencil on scrap paper between sharpenings.
If you need a darker line, use a softer pencil, and be aware that a softer pencil goes blunt quickly.
When drawing lines, either in a linear drawing or within a texture in a tonal drawing, note that you can vary the weight of the line by lifting the pencil or pressing harder.
This might seem obvious, but it is important, and most people don’t exploit line weight enough.
Note the example above, which shows how lifting the pencil towards the end of the stroke can be used to give a grassy or fluffy effect.
It can be useful to reduce the weight as the pencil is applied at the start of the stroke, rather than dropping it straight into full pressure.
A mechanical side-to-side shading motion, with each stroke ending below the last as the hand is moved down the page creates unwanted bands of tone through the shaded area.
To prevent this, work back and forth over the same area, randomly varying the spot where the pencil-point changes direction.
Or, try using a fine circular motion. This gives a different texture.
Don’t let your shading just follow the curve of your arm as you move it across the page. Use direction to describe your object.
Follow the form, or create an edge using contrasting direction in two planes. A casual-looking but carefully executed effect of shading everything in one direction can also look effective.
Direction directs the viewer’s eye or creates energy. Even randomness is often carefully considered, in order to look ‘artfully disheveled’ rather than ‘scruffy’. Where are your marks going?
The marks you make on the paper are like the notes played by a musician. No matter how good the written music, if the ‘notes’ are carelessly played, the result will be ugly.
Likewise, by thinking about the kind of mark on your paper, you can make your idea as beautiful or dramatic as you choose.
Is it a lyrical, gentle, flowing idea? Let your pencil strokes reflect that feeling.
Often the subject (a spiky dried flower, or a curving vase) or model (a wrinkly older person, or a smooth-faced child) will imply a certain kind of handling.
Take a critical look at all the little marks you make, as well as your overall composition. Those marks are your notes. Make them sing.