Arts and Crafts Explained: Beginning Colored Pencils, by Apryl

 

Colored pencil has to be my favorite medium to work with. I love the control and the feel of using them, and I love the results.

“Emma” colored pencil portrait.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a colored pencil and what makes it different from regular pencils?

For an interesting look at how colored pencils are made, check out this video from “How It’s Made.

What is the best brand of colored pencil?

Although individual preference can dictate which pencil will work best for you, there are some favorites among serious artists. Most often, Prismacolor pencils come out on top for quality and color selection, followed by Faber-Castell polychromos. Personally, I would recommend Prismacolor to start out with and then experiment with a few other brands. You can usually buy colored pencils from open stock at art supply stores, so you can experiment without investing in a full set.

What is the best type of paper to use?

While you can draw with colored pencil on just about any type of paper (and even wood!) some papers perform better than others. In order to layer colors and blend without marring the paper, you need thicker paper with a little bit of tooth. (Tooth is the rough surface of the paper.) I recommend using a heavy weight paper such as Bristol. Hot press papers will have a smoother surface, while cold press will be much more rough. My personal favorite is Arches Watercolor paper, 140lb Hot Press. It is smooth, but still retains enough tooth to allow several layers of color. I buy it in large sheets at the art supply store and cut it down into the sizes I need.

What do I need to start?

For a beginning artist who wants to seriously explore colored pencils, I would recommend the following:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Woodcase Pencils, 12 Assorted Colors/set. You can often find the larger sets on sale for half price, especially around Christmas.

Prismacolor Premier Colorless Blender Pencil, 2 Pencils

Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Pad – 11-Inchx14-Inch – 20 Sheet Pad

X-Acto Home and office Electric Pencil Sharpener (19210) Yes, I do recommend an electric pencil sharpener. Don’t go all out and buy the most expensive one, as colored pencils will be hard on your sharpener. That said, I’ve had an X-Acto similar to this one for several years now and it is still going strong.

Sanford Design Kneaded Eraser

Extras that are handy, but not essential:

Mini Dusting Brush, 10in for dusting off pencil dust without smudging your drawing

• Masking tape for taping off the edges of your work for a clean edge

• Rulers

TECHNIQUE

Outlining:

Colored pencil can be hard to erase, so laying out your drawing beforehand is recommended. I often draw a sketch entirely in pencil, and then trace it lightly onto clean paper for my final colored pencil drawing. I will usually use a light gray or brown colored pencil to trace with, and use a very light hand. For easy tracing, tape your original drawing to a window or glass door and tape your clean paper over the top. The light will shine through, making the tracing easier. You can also purchase light tables for that purpose.

As you can see in this photo, I am working on top of a lightly sketched drawing.

Laying down color:

Colored pencil drawings are slowly built up by layering the colors one over another. You nearly always want to keep each layer of color light, adding more light layers to make it darker or to modify the color. If you color with a heavy hand, the wax of the pencil will build up too quickly and you will find that you cannot add more color. It will end up looking blotchy. So, when coloring in your drawing, use light even strokes.

Keep your pencils sharp. A sharp tip will fill in all of the little hills and valleys that occur in the paper surface. This results in an even coverage and fewer white specks showing through. When your pencil is blunt, it will skip over any small valleys in the paper, allowing the paper surface to show through.

You will also want to begin with the lightest colors first, gradually building up your drawing, and finishing up with the darkest colors.

Here you can see where I have begun to gradually build up color and shading.

more gradual color building

A very handy tool when using colored pencils is a colorless blending pencil. These pencils are just wax, and can be used to blend and smooth your colors. This should be done near the end of your project because it will lay down a layer of wax that makes adding more layers difficult.

Beginning to blend the skin tones more with a colorless blending pencil. The eyes and lips are also blended.

Lifting or erasing color:

Colored pencil can be very difficult to erase, and will rarely erase completely. However, you can use a kneaded eraser to “lift” color. You do this by firmly pressing a small amount of eraser onto the area to be erased and lifting it. Do not rub it across the paper. This technique will pick up small amounts of colored pencil. Be sure to use a different area of your eraser for each lift, so that you do not smear color back onto your paper.

You can also use an electric eraser. I have read that people can get good results from them, but I have not tried it.

Highlights:

There are several ways to create white or “highlighted” areas in your drawing. If you are using white paper, you can leave the desired area blank. You can color it in with a white colored pencil (with no other colors beneath). You can “lift” an area of color with a kneaded eraser. Or you can use a knife or other sharp object to gently scrape the area clean of colored pencil. For very fine areas of light color (such as hair) I have used a needle or thumbtack to lightly trace the area, leaving an indentation. When you color over it with a darker color, the pencil will not hit the indented area, leaving it white.

Below I have used a combination of highlighting techniques. In the eyes, the light reflections were left uncolored until the end, and then I went over them with a white pencil. The forehead and cheekbones needed a little more highlighting to make them more rounded, so at the final stage, I went over the skin tone in those areas with a white pencil, lightening them slightly.

The finished piece. I left the background unblended.

PROJECT

In this project you will create a color wheel and learn how to blend colored pencils to create different colors and shades. If you would like to learn a little more about color theory, check out my previous article, “The Science of Color.

First download and print this mini poster onto paper. You can use regular copy paper, but you can also use artist paper cut to fit your printer.

For this project we will only use 3 colors: red, blue and yellow. I used Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Canary Yellow. You can also use a blending pencil if you have one.

1. With your three pencils, color in the primary color wedges — red, yellow, and blue:

2. Color in secondary colors:

orange = yellow + red (because of the way colored pencils blend, I recommend laying down the yellow first. This will keep the orange lighter in color.)
violet = red + blue
green = blue + yellow

Remember, use a light, even hand and a sharp pencil when coloring.

3. Color in tertiary colors:

yellow-orange = yellow + yellow + red
red-orange = red + yellow + red
red-violet = red + red + blue
blue-violet = blue + red + blue
blue-green = blue + blue + yellow
yellow-green = yellow + blue + yellow

4. Now you can use these color mixing techniques to color in the pictures around the color wheel. Experiment using different combinations of the three colors to create shadows and contrasts. *

*Be sure to read “Pencil Control and Shading” for more on how to create realistic shadows and gain pencil control.

Below I have a photo showing the same image colored on two different papers. The paper on the left is just white copy paper. The paper on the right is Arches 140lb Hot Press watercolor paper. You can see the difference in vibrancy and that I was able to add more color depth. Also, if you look at the cherries in this photo vs. the cherries in the above photo, you can see where I have used the colorless blending pencil to smooth and blend the colors.

Have fun with your new colored pencil skills!

apryl

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Our Chalk Walk Experience, by Apryl

 

Recently I, along with my daughter and niece, had the opportunity to participate in Knoxville’s Annual Chalk Walk. Each year they open Market Square to artists of all abilities to create a chalk creation on the sidewalks. This was our first year, and we learned a lot!

1.  Come prepared. They provided us with chalk. Anything else was up to us. We brought felt squares for blending and masking tape. I will post more at the end about what I plan on bringing next year.

2.  Have a plan. We had sketches of what we wanted to do. This was extremely helpful. It would be very hard to work on the fly with so many people watching you!

3.  Know some basic chalk techniques. This was my first time EVER working with chalk for drawing other than using children’s sidewalk chalk with my kids!

4.  Be prepared to shift gears. I had to redraw my sketch a bit for proportion. I also ran out of a color for the skin and had to improvise.

5.  Wear old clothes. You WILL get dirty!

6.  Have fun! We enjoyed ourselves so much, and cannot wait to go back next year!

This is the finished piece my daughter and niece worked on.

This is my finished piece. It was kind of unfinished, but my old bones had had enough of the cold concrete!

Here are some other beautiful works in progress:

Now, for what I would do differently.

First, I would definitely bring knee pads! That is what affected my artwork most of all. It is hard to work if you are in pain.

Bring extra chalk. Although they had a table for trading in chalk, the colors you wanted weren’t always there. So, especially if you know you will be using a lot of one color, bring backups!

Bring a chalk line and mark out a grid. Have your sketch on a grid. It is hard to keep the perspective correct when you are working on the ground.

Bring lots of paint brushes, some water, and plenty of felt for blending. The water allows you to “paint” on the chalk, and you can use paint brushes for detailed work. I had neither, and it was very hard to get much detail on the rough concrete.

And finally, practice! I plan on filling our driveway with chalk art this summer in preparation for next year.

Wondering what kind of chalk to use?  Try these: Pro Art Chalk Pastel Set, 36 Color

To see all of the beautiful artwork created, check out the Dogwood Arts Festival album on Facebook!

 

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and aprylher three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Needle Felting! by Apryl

 

Needle felting is a fiber art that has been gaining popularity, and for good reason. It is fairly inexpensive to get started and not difficult to learn. Your creations are only limited by your imagination!

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The basic supplies:

1. Felting needles.  These needles are barbed and come in triangle or star shapes. Common sizes are 36, 38, and 40 gauge.  40 are the thinnest and best for finish work. The lower the number, the thicker the needle. You can also purchase “pens” that hold multiple needles. This allows for faster felting of larger surfaces, and can be more comfortable to hold. Please be aware that the needles are very sharp. Accidentally stabbing yourself is nearly unavoidable, especially at first. Keep this in mind when allowing children to take up this project. It is really the only reason I would lean towards older children doing this rather than younger ones.

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2.  Wool roving.  Roving comes in many different colors and textures. The rougher textured wool will felt more quickly and feel firmer. The finer silky roving takes longer to felt and has a softer texture. You can find everything from lower cost, mass produced roving at the larger craft stores, to beautiful hand-dyed roving from exotic breeds. I recommend using the lower cost roving at first as you learn.

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3.  Foam block. The foam block is your work surface. It allows the needle to freely stab through the wool without hitting a hard surface ( or yourself!).

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That is all you need to get started! You can purchase a starter kit like this Round and Wooly Turtles Needle Felting Kit that come with a needle, roving, a small block and instructions to make an animal. I highly recommend these as it will give you an inexpensive taste of needle felting without investing in a lot of different items. I do recommend buying an extra needle or two, because they break easily and beginners break them often.

These are the turtles my 13-year-old daughters made from the kit linked above. It was their first attempt at needle felting.

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A quick search on Pinterest or YouTube will yield a plethora of tutorials from very basic to very advanced. Check out a few and then try it yourself!

Look for future articles in this series for more advanced techniques.

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Clay! by Apryl

 

If, as a homeschool mom, you have ever considered going beyond Play-Doh for teaching your kids a little about sculpting,  you may have noticed that there are a lot of choices out there for clay.

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The type and brand of clay you choose ultimately depends on the desired end product. If you just want to sculpt some objects and let them dry on their own, then you will do best with an air dry clay. If you want hard, cured sculptures but don’t want the hassle of using a kiln, then polymer clay may be what you are looking for. If you want to go all out, buy a kiln and fire your work, then natural clay is where it’s at. This post is going to explain in a little more detail the differences between these types of clay and even mention a few of the best brands.

Air Dry: 

There are a wide range of possibilities in air dry clays. Many of them aren’t even technically clay at all.

As a first step beyond Play-Doh, I would recommend Crayola Model Magic Modeling Compound. Model Magic is a fun starter sculpting medium for kids. It is easily mold-able and quickly air dries. The finished sculptures are extremely lightweight and feel kind of like Styrofoam.  It is paintable, and we have also had success coloring the clay using markers.

Not to be confused with Model Magic, Crayola Air Dry Clay is another option. It is a bit more dense than model magic, and will take longer to dry. It is closer in texture to traditional clay. After drying it can be somewhat brittle and is prone to cracking. This medium can also be painted.

AMACO Air Dry Clay is a natural clay that can be air dried or kiln fired. If left to air dry, the pieces will be very fragile. There is the tendency to shrink and crack when air dried, as well. This clay can be used for pottery or for sculpting and handles just like any other natural clay. This can be a good transition for working with kiln fired sculptures.

Polymer clay:

Polymer clay is a plastic based product that is heat cured. This clay will stay pliable until it is baked. Since it is a PVC product, it is recommended that you use a dedicated toaster oven to cure the projects in. Undesirable fumes can linger in your oven after baking and can permeate any food cooked in it afterwards. You can usually pick up a used toaster oven for a few dollars at a your local thrift store or garage sale.

I recommend using the Sculpey III Polymer Clay brand if possible, as it is the easiest to work with. Other brands will take more conditioning before use. (Conditioning is the act of rolling out and gradually warming the clay to make it more pliable.) A quick way to condition polymer clay is by using a pasta rolling machine. Again, use one that is dedicated to use with clay and will not be used for food again. Craft stores also sell them as clay conditioning machines, but they are really the same thing.

Polymer clay can be painted, and it also comes in a wide variety of colors.  (Paint AFTER heat curing!)

Natural Clay:

There are many brands and varieties of natural clays, but they all require kiln firing which is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to work with kiln fired clay, try looking for pottery classes in your community.

Tools:

To begin sculpting, all you really need is some clay and your hands. However, there are many tools available that can add to your enjoyment of the process.

A starter set like this is a good place to begin: Sculpt Pro 11 Piece Pottery and Sculpting Art Tool Set. These tools allow you to easily cut away, smooth, pierce and shape your sculpting projects.

The best way to get started is to choose your desired type of clay and just begin to play.  Practice making balls, ropes (or snakes), coils, and other shapes. Use old cookie cutters or press things into the clay to make different textures. Aluminum foil, floral wire and other objects can make great armatures (foundations) to build your sculptures on. Be sure to use non-flammable/non-melting armatures for any clay that will be heat cured.

Most importantly, have fun!

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Drawing Paper, by Apryl

 

Artwork has been created on every surface imaginable over the centuries, but perhaps one of the most commonly used is paper.  In this installment of the Arts and Crafts Explained series we will discuss some of the more common paper surfaces used in drawing.

Paper has been made from all sorts of materials, from textile waste to bamboo, but the papers we use the most today are created from either cotton or cellulose (wood pulp).  Paper comes in a myriad of textures and thicknesses that will affect how the artist’s drawing will turn out.  Artists often use these differences to their advantage and will consider carefully the paper they use.

Most children, or even adults, that are new to creating art on paper will start with either copy paper or a low cost sketch pad.  While there is nothing wrong with doodling or sketching on these papers, you will be limiting yourself and the potential of your tools by using this lower grade paper.  Many of these lower cost papers are not archival quality.  This means that the acids in the paper itself will cause the paper to degrade over time, potentially losing your artwork.  Also, the lower quality papers are often not as sturdy and will not hold up to erasing or heavy pressure from a pencil.

Higher quality cotton papers will give you good results.  They withstand the abuse of an eraser and reworking of a drawing much better than cellulose.  These papers will stand the test of time as well.

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The texture or finish of your paper can vary greatly, depending on how it was manufactured. The common types are rough, cold press, and hot press.

A rough finish is air dried and has a very textured surface.  These papers are good for watercolors and pastels.

Cold press finishes have a rougher texture than hot press, but a finer texture than the unpressed papers. It is created by placing wet paper between metal plates or rollers.  There is some variety in the textures created. I have found that some of these textures work well for colored pencil.

The hot press finish is very smooth.  Hot metal plates are used to flatten, or iron, the paper smooth.  The paper is hard and has an almost texture-less surface.  These papers are excellent for fine detail.

The thickness of your paper is measured, oddly enough, in pounds.  When you see paper labeled as 50lb paper, it means that a ream of 500 sheets of 24” x 36” will weigh 50lbs.  The GSM standard can also be used.  It is more accurate as it measures the weight per square meter.  The higher the number, the greater the thickness of the paper.

Paper preference will vary greatly from artist to artist, and from project to project.  My advice to a beginner is to visit a store that carries a variety of papers and actually touch them.  At major chain craft stores you can often find large art paper sold by the sheet.  This can be an inexpensive way to try different textures.  I will often buy a large sheet and cut it down to smaller sizes.

I would also recommend buying a several types of sketch books to try out.  Again, the ones with thicker pages will hold up better.

Watch for the next article in the series!

Aprylapryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Learn Pencil Control and Shading, by Apryl

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Drawing Pencils, by Apryl

 

“The pencil is indeed a very precious instrument after you are master of the pen and the brush, for the pencil, cunningly used, is both, and will draw a line with the precision of the one, and the gradation of the other.” — Ruskin

This installment of my “Arts and Crafts Explained” series will discuss the most basic of art supplies: the pencil.  You may be thinking, “What could she possibly have to write about this? Isn’t a pencil a pencil?” However, if you step into any art supply store, you will quickly realize there so many types and choices that you may not know where to begin.  I am going to walk you through some of the different choices you have, and what they are used for, by answering some questions.

1.  Why use drawing pencils vs. standard #2 school pencils?

Not all pencils are created equal.  We’ve all experienced the angst of trying to sharpen a cheap pencil that has an off-center core, or one in which the lead continually breaks.  When you are in the middle of creating your work of art, the last thing you want to deal with is a pencil that will not sharpen.  You’ll also find that the texture of the lead in lesser quality pencils will vary greatly, causing an unevenness in the marks it lays down.  The grit in cheap pencils can snag your paper and cause unwanted results.  Most #2 pencils that you find sold with school and office supplies are not artist grade, so you will run into these problems.  You can also find these problems in pencils sold as artist or drawing pencils if you buy off brand pencils or use those sold in low-cost, all-in-one art sets.  In my opinion, you are going to be much better off buying your pencils from open stock at an art supply store, or in a set that only contains drawing pencils.

2.  What do all those letters and numbers mean?

When you look at a pencil, you will notice that it has a number, a letter, or a combination of both marked on it.  These numbers are used to grade the graphite in the pencil.  Although commonly referred to as pencil “lead,” the core of a pencil is actually graphite mixed with clay and contains no lead.  The graphite and clay are mixed in differing proportions to create different grades of “lead.”  The grades indicate how soft or hard the core is.  The photo below shows a good range in the pencils to the right.

Basically, H pencils have a harder core and B pencils have a softer core.  So a 9H would have an extremely hard core, and a 9B would have an extremely soft core.  Typically, you would use a harder core pencil for fine detail.  It also tends to be lighter in color, as it doesn’t lay down as much graphite.  It will not blend very well.  A softer core pencil is used for shading and loose detail.  It will smudge more easily and blends very well.  It also tends to show up much darker.  Which grades of pencils you use are a personal preference.  I tend to use the 2B-4B pencils the most in my drawing, with a 6H for fine detail.

You can also purchase graphite sticks.  These have no wood casing, and are often used for covering large areas quickly, or for large, loose sketching.  They are kind of messy (they rub off on your fingers) but fun to use.

3.  What brands do I prefer to use?

Brand choice is really a personal preference.  Most of my drawing pencils are Sanford Design Drawing Pencils.  I use them mainly because I am used to them, and they are easy to find in my area.  If you get a chance, however, go to your local art supply store and talk to the sales clerks there.  They may be able to put you on to a brand they like better.  Just this week the guy at our store recommended that I try Grafwood Caran d’Ache pencils.  I bought two, and so far they are working very nicely.

4.  What kind of pencil sharpener should I use?

I highly recommend not skimping here.  I prefer electric or wall mounted (old school style) sharpeners.  Try as I might, I can never get the point I like with a handheld, and I often snap off the tip.  A decent electric sharpener will last quite a while.  If you are using colored pencils, you will go through them quicker than if you just sharpen graphite, but it is still well worth the replacement cost.  I have an X-Acto brand electric sharpener on my desk right now that I have used heavily for at least four years.  Many artists will also keep sandpaper nearby to sharpen the tip back up a bit.

5.  What are those strange paper stick things? 

You may have seen those white things that look like rolled up paper sold beside artist pencils.  Those are Blending Stumps and Tortillions.  They are very useful to blend shadows in a drawing.  While you can make your own by rolling up strips of paper into a small stick, I find the pre-made ones are much easier to use and last longer.  You use one by rubbing gently over the area you wish to blend and it smears the graphite around.  (You can also use a finger, but you risk getting oils from your hands all over your drawing and you end up with black fingers.)

6.  What about erasers?

You’ll notice that drawing pencils do not come with erasers.  There are many types to choose from, and I recommend buying several kinds and see which ones you prefer.  Personally I like to use the white Mars plastic erasers for graphite.  They lift well.  I also like to use a kneaded rubber eraser.  You can mold it into very small shapes to get into tight areas.  You don’t rub with a kneaded eraser, you tend to dab and lift.

7.  Where do I find all this stuff?

Most big box art and craft supply stores will have a decent selection to choose from, but I encourage you find a smaller artist supply store near you if possible.  These stores will often carry more varieties and more specialty items than the large craft stores.  Also, they tend to employ people who actually work with the things they sell, so they can often give you tips and advice.  I have found that nearly all larger college campuses will have a decent artist supply store somewhere nearby.  If all else fails, you can order online at several different retailers.

To try your hand at drawing, browse through these free ebooks on pencil drawing from the early 20th century:  How to Use a Pencil