- Lesson details
The New Masters Academy Beginner Series helps aspiring artists start their artistic journey on the right foot. Your expert instructors will gently guide you to an understanding of drawing fundamentals. In this lesson, Heather will teach you how to sharpen your pencil, and effective ways in which to properly hold it. She will then show you how to use your pencil as a measuring tool, and how to translate what you see in your subject to your drawing surface.
- American Line Single Edge Razor Blades
- Westcott Sandpaper Lead Pointer
- Sanding Block
- Conté a Paris Sketching Pencil – Black
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on the right foot.
Your expert instructors will gently guide you to an understanding of drawing fundamentals.
In this lesson, Heather will teach you how to sharpen your pencil and effective ways
in which to properly hold it.
She will then show you how to use your pencil as a measuring tool, and how to translate
what you see in your subject to your drawing surface.
for pencil sharpening.
There are a couple different types of razor blades you can get.
I like to get these single-edge blades.
They’re super cheap if you get them in a big box from a hardware store.
They do dull pretty so fast so it’s nice to have them on hand.
If you end up painting down the road you can slip them into a holder and use them to clean
your palette as well.
Here is one type of sanding pad.
These can rip off as little sheets.
But, to tell you the truth, I don’t remember the last time I had to rip one off.
They last a really long time.
This is a sanding pad that’s especially made for artists.
This is one of my personal faves.
It is a cheap sanding block from the hardware store.
It is active on the edges and on the broadsides.
Some people will choose not to use every side so that their hands don’t get gross.
Also, it’s nice to have some Ziplock bags to store these in, especially if you’re
carrying them anywhere with you.
Okay, this is a very sad thing.
This happens a lot.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts a pencil hits the dust, and you lose the tip.
We hope it only broke here.
Sometimes it breaks further down the barrel.
We take a little bit of a risk when we sharpen it again and hope it’s not broken anywhere
down the shaft.
Let’s go ahead and take a blade and see if we get lucky.
I’m going to grip my blade from the safe end, the dull end at the back.
I’m going to use it by, of course, cutting away from my face.
Luckily, with this we’re always going to be cutting away from ourselves.
We’re going to be cutting sort of parallel with the long axis of the pencil.
That’s not just for safety.
That’s because our aim is to create a long taper in the pencil.
So, let’s go ahead and get a grip on this guy.
I’m going to hold the blade this way in my right hand because I’m right-handed,
and the pencil in my left.
I’m going to have this as parallel as they can be.
Then I think about following through this way and not putting a great deal of pressure
perpendicularly because I do want to protect that fragile pencil graphite that’s in the barrel.
So, with this thumb, I’m going to start to get a little bit of steam and just come through.
We’re going to rotate slowly and begin to make our way around.
This is a great opportunity to start to tune in, become present, put on a good soundtrack,
get in the mood.
You may even want to do a bunch of pencils at once.
I had a great teacher who always said that whenever you were done drawing for the day
to sharpen your pencils so it was ready to go again the next time you wanted to study.
If it already had a little bit of a start to it, if the lead was already a little bit
tapered, I might spend a little longer on the wood.
But, right now it has a little more support around it, and if it’s fragile in here,
this might increase our odds that we actually get it sharpened if I can do some of this
work on the fragile tip while it still has wood around it to help support it.
Some people like to take the razor and where they use the middle, maybe for the wood, they’ll
flip it to this other grip and use a little bit of an edge that’s still really sharp,
reserved for just the tip here.
I am taking down about as much, you know, probably like 1:1 ratio I want to expose the
wood and the active Conté, that lead, if you will.
The reason for that is so I can make really great use of this pencil.
I’ll have more than one tool right, you know, just have the tip active.
I’ll be able to toggle back and forth between a little bit of line stroke to a little bit
of a broader, to even twist it in my hand, and in one stroke go from a thin to a thick.
If I wanted to lay in tone, it’s really great to have that nice piece of graphite
or Conté exposed so you can just lay in a nice, even tone.
Now that we have that I’ll start to slide down a little bit more.
The closer I get to getting this done, the more important it is to make sure to be parallel.
You’ll find there is a little bit of glue or adhesive between the wood layer and the
Conté, and so you just want to carefully remove that.
And once I like how much Conté is exposed, I’m actually going to switch.
I prefer to do the finishing with sandpaper.
We’re getting there. We’re getting warm.
Take it down a little here.
Okay, I’m going to put the blade down.
You can see I’ve almost got a nice one-to-one ratio here.
Now I want to finish it off into a point.
Let’s start with the sanding pad, and then I’m going to move to the sanding block.
One of my buddies told me is the key is to turn slowly.
I think he is right about that.
As you get closer to finish, you want to slow your rotation down.
I might go a little aggressive in the beginning.
And I’m holding it, again, fairly flat, fairly parallel to the pad.
I’m not getting a real harsh angle here.
Keeping it pretty flat.
I’ve found if you have black trash bags, it’s really hard to see.
You know, if you check your pencil to see how you’re doing, it’s hard to see it
You might want to find a light thing to lift it up against to check.
The nice thing is, once you’ve got it started it might dull from drying.
It doesn’t take as long to tune it as it does to start it.
Let’s try switching to the pad and see how that goes.
A little check here.
At this point, I just look for any sharp angles.
If it looks faceted like a gem, we want it to look smooth, like a really smooth cone.
I think we saved this one.
So you can see now, we’ve got a nice long taper.
We have about as much lead showing as the wood approximately.
And you can imagine that if it’s nice and smooth you can rock it down on the paper from
tip to nearly parallel with the paper, and you can find a variety of any mark in-between.
So this is how you would hold a pencil in grade school when you’re learning to write
You’re probably pretty familiar with how this feels and you might even guess some of
the pros and cons with it.
We discussed before how it is important to think of drawing from your shoulder, from
using more of your whole body, and how it isn’t an advantage a lot of times to draw
from your wrist.
So, with this, if we step to the paper here, we find that it does tend to lead us to that
temptation to draw with our wrist.
That may not be bad if we’re ready for some really fine finishing moves, getting up on
the tip, getting that last little darkest dark in a pupil.
This might even be a decent way to approach sketchbooking, for instance, or when you’re
holding something like a ballpoint pen where the tip is the only active area on the implement.
The con is it’s a little bit limiting, and it’s a little bit harder to draw from the
shoulder to get big shapes or to see the big picture.
Alright, number two.
The underhand grip.
This is a grip where we have the pads of our fingers below and the thumb on the top.
You’ll notice that we can get right up towards the tip or move back a little bit.
When we lay our hand down we’ll find we can actually fulcrum or rest a few different ways.
So, one fulcrum is resting the fingers against the page.
While some artists might like to kind of cantilever up on the back of the nails.
It might be kind of slick and easy to slide that way, and it lifts you up a little more
so you have this angle, which gets you more towards the tip.
Maybe if you want to be more parallel you can try resting your fingers.
So, play with both.
Some advantages to the underhand grip are you can really make the most out of this tool.
For instruments that have this nice long edge you can use the whole active area.
You can drop whole planes in with tone, and in the same stroke you can start on the tip
and end with the broad side.
Having that versatility is going to be really handy when you’re drawing.
Also, this starts to get you back a little further from the page.
It starts to help you see the bigger picture.
The third way to hold your pencil.
It’s sort of a subtle variation on the second way.
The underhand way slid to the edge becomes the end grip.
Really frees you up from the shoulder.
You can step way back see the whole picture in context.
The whole big relationship.
Pros, you feel like Harry Potter.
You get a really nice look at the whole page.
Tunnel vision is one of those things you want to check yourself against, and this is going
to really help you.
This is great for when you’re kind of looking to lay something in or see how it looks on
the whole page.
It’s also nice if you kind of want to ghost something in really lightly.
You’re in your shoulder.
You’re seeing the big picture.
You can make big, sweeping strokes, confine those rhythms.
Also, this is a lot like painting, and so not only is it really fun, but again, if you’re
into painting, and you’re interested in pursuing it down the road, this is a really
You can go back and forth with a lot of ease.
Because there is no fulcrum here.
There are some cons.
It’s a little harder to control the pressure.
It’s definitely probably not the finishing move, last little detail in the eye.
Probably not great for rendering like the other grips could have been used for.
This one, also, the longer you stay on your shoulder without resting against the paper,
you might start to fatigue a little bit in your shoulder.
The other nice thing about having the grip on the end is you may like to use it to check
a plumb line.
Same thing with the paintbrush.
They’re nice and long for a reason.
They actually can work as measuring tools.
You can see I’m on the bench.
We also talked about how to hold a pencil.
We talked about making marks, what that looks like with the pencil.
There is a great new part of the pencil that we’re going to discuss next.
And that is how to make it a tool for measure.
I’m going to go ahead and show you now how I’m going to lift the drawing board and
park it on my knees.
You can see that when I do that the angle from my eye to the page is nice, sort of centered.
It’s a good arm’s distance away.
I have more of that perpendicular orientation so that there is not distortion occurring.
So, when we started drawing, we’re going to make some really light marks.
We want to just indicate where the figure or the subject might occur on the page.
These are going to be rough estimates that we’re going to get tighter and tighter as
we go on.
And in the beginning, we’re going to keep them really light so that later we can adjust
them if we really need to adjust.
When you look first at your object, take a minute, breathe it in.
Make sure you’re sitting up and you’ve got distance here.
You want to notice the big shape first.
And then think about how you’re going to take that big shape and translate it onto
your flat, two-dimensional page.
Here we’re working with a figure.
The elbow is the highest point, and the foot at the lower edge.
I want to make some marks where I want to limit the figure.
I’m just lightly going to pencil in some marks.
Now that I have those marks penciled in, the height and the lower limit, I’m going to
look at it for a second.
You’ll see me start looking over my pencil.
I’m starting to turn it into a tool here.
I’m going to lock my elbow, and I’m going to lock my wrist.
Because I’m starting to judge things based on this position.
And that is a relationship of my eyes to this point.
You’ll notice if I bend my elbow this distance is changed.
This measurement quickly becomes a totally different measurement.
Remember to keep your arm locked in place.
Notice that I’m not holding it like this, pointing it at the model.
I’m not pointing it at myself.
I have it perfectly vertical so it’s only in this one plane.
Let’s look first at how we would use a plumb line.
A plumb line is simply a vertical line.
Back in the day they use to tie a bob or some kind of weight to make sure a line would be
a true vertical.
Here, we’re just going to try to lock our arm and keep our pencil as vertical as possible.
We’re going to use it to look at some relationships.
So, keeping my vertical as straight as I can, I’m going to start to note some things.
I might want to know where this crotch of the figure is in relation to the head.
I might want to know how the edge of the shoulder relates, and I see that there is some space.
There is some daylight between this heel and where the edge of the shoulder would fall.
Keep the variables as simple as possible.
Try not to introduce any other changes.
I’ve got my arm locked, and I’ve got my pencil vertical.
Part of that reason is to view the model, but also when I translate that to the page,
it’s the same angle.
I like to check the overall big shape, just very generalized.
I like to check that with angles.
I’m just going to look at what’s the angle from here to the ground.
We’ll, it’s a little off vertical.
It kind of cuts in about here.
So, I’m going to line my pencil up approximately at this angle.
I’m going to lock my arm out, that angle coming down.
I’m just going to take, translate that to the page and just approximate the same angle,
trying to keep my shoulder the only thing moving.
The rest of the arm is shape.
Then I’m going to look at the limit on the right side of the model.
First, I’m going to just make that really big general.
This is almost a vertical.
Just to get some idea.
This would probably be a good time to find an approximate midpoint so we have some idea
of the height and the lower limit, where that horizontal, where that equator is going to fit.
And to do that, I’m going to use the pencil and slide my hand up and down to change the
unit of measure.
For something really small you might see my thumb get really close to the top.
For something bigger, I’m going to hold the pencil further down.
That’s just sliding based on what I see when I look past my pencil and at the model.
So, locking the arm out again, we’re going to start by guessing.
We’re going to eyeball it and say, you know, it’s probably around the crotch.
There is a little bit of a bent knee here, which is going to shorten that lower half.
Let’s see that distance between that raised elbow and the crotch.
I’m going to use my thumb, sliding my thumb down the pencil, locking my shoulder.
Let’s guess about here to start.
So there is this distance.
Now, if I slide from the shoulder just straight down the figure, keeping that vertical, I
see that my thumb goes off the page.
So, that’s not the midpoint.
There is more distance up here than there is down here.
So, to adjust we’re going to take and slide our hand a little bit.
Let’s see, what if I slid my hand up all the way here.
Let’s see where that winds up.
Here is the point of the elbow, locking my shoulder.
I note that it comes about the rib cage.
Well, now this is way too short.
This is going to be like trying on some jeans.
You pick the pair you think is right.
Then you try it on, and then you adjust from there.
Let me check again.
I might slide a little further down.
I’m just scooching in little increments down the pencil.
Alright, this is getting close to the limit of the abdomen here, about the pubic area,
and we slide down.
That’s a lot closer.
What I’ve found is the midpoint on the figure.
I know what part of the figure is going to fall and divide the height into two equal parts.
On my page, I already just indicated where I want the top to go and where I want the
bottom to go.
That’s arbitrary. That's up to you.
But now, we need to find the halfway mark between the lower limits and the upper limits
that we’ve already set.
I’m going to hold my pencil here on my mark.
I’m going to take my finger and put it at the top.
I’m going to keep my finger there, and I’m going to do the same thing at the top.
I can guess that probably the midpoint is around here.
So, I know that’s going to be where that end of the abdomen, beginning of the pubic
bone will fall.
So, the thing you’re most confident that you have accurate is a great place to start
to compare to get the other pieces of the puzzle in.