One of the first things I teach in my art classes is the control of the pencil. Mastering pencil pressure and control are essential to learning how to draw. Here are some simple exercises that I recommend doing repeatedly until you feel you have mastered them.
1. Practice applying pressure.
It is much easier to erase mistakes when you draw lightly. A line drawn with a heavy hand dents the paper and will not erase completely no matter how hard you try. When sketching and drawing, I always begin with a light outline. Gradually, as it takes the shape I desire, I will begin to darken the lines and erase any light ones I don’t want to remain. Don’t ever be afraid to use your eraser! Practice this until it becomes automatic for you to start lightly when you draw.
2. Practice gradually darkening into a shadow.
The key to realistic drawing is mastery of shadows. This cannot be learned until you are good at drawing a gradient. A gradient is just a gradual darkening. Draw a box and practice making it look like the one above. I usually start by very lightly filling in the entire area. Then, I will increase pressure and add layers, moving from the light area to the darkest area. Continue practicing this until you can create a smooth transition from dark to light. Then practice it in many different directions, such as top to bottom, or right to left. The sketch above was made using a 3B pencil.
3. Practice shading on basic shapes.
I find that a basic circle (or circular shape) is the best to practice with. You will choose a direction for your “light source” and keep it in mind. My arrow is the direction I want the light to come from. This will be the side with little to no shading. The side opposite your light source will be the darkest. Using the gradient technique you learned above, shade your circle, following the contour of your shape. To make it really pop from the page, add a drop shadow. A drop shadow will begin at the outer edge of the object, opposite from your light source. If your object is sitting on a surface (like an imagined floor or table) then it will touch the object. Your shadow will be a stretched out version of your shape. (Mine is a flattened circle above.) If your shadow doesn’t touch your object, it will appear to float in mid-air. Try it! Then practice doing this with other shapes.
6. Practice using a pencil stump.
Finally, use a paper blending stump to further blend your shading projects. You just gently rub the areas with the stub, just like you were using a pencil. This is best learned with practice!
Enjoy practicing these tips until our next project!
Did you miss the article on artist pencils? If so, read it here.
About Apryl: I am a homeschooling mother of three teenage daughters. We have been homeschooling for nearly six years after pulling our girls from the public school system. We strive to have a well-rounded education that will allow the girls to live out their lives for Christ, no matter where He leads them.