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.


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.


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.

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

Arts and Crafts Explained: Series Introduction, by Apryl

by Apryl

For many homeschoolers, one of the more intimidating subjects to teach can be hands-on art. The plethora of subjects, methods and supplies can be overwhelming to someone who doesn’t consider themselves artistic or crafty.  This series will be covering the how-to and why of some basic art techniques, with some hands-on projects laid out for you to get your feet wet.  I will start with a discussion of the basic supplies and tools, what they are typically used for, and why some types work better than others.

While my formal art training consists of one college art class that I dropped out of, I have been creating art for as long as I can remember.  I attribute my love of arts and crafts and the abilities I’ve developed to my family who encouraged me as a child and who never balked at letting me loose with art supplies.  My family gave me real paints, genuine calligraphy pens, artist grade pencils, actual oil paints and pastels, and more.  I was allowed to keep them in my room and use them at my whim.  For the most part, I’ve done the same with my children, and they have also embraced a creative life.  I believe that true art comes not from formal instruction, but through an understanding of your tools and materials and the freedom to explore.

So I encourage you to follow along as we embark on this artistic journey, and to always remember:  there isn’t a right or a wrong way to create art.