When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice

Kathie asks today about dull pencils and when they might be the best choice. Here’s her question:

When are sharp pencil points important?  When I am doing a background in several light layers, it seems that a duller pencil does the job better.  But in the tutorial I am finishing now, the teacher wants sharp points even on the lightest layers.  

Kathie

That’s a fantastic question, Kathie, and I know exactly what you’re saying.

When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice

But before I get to the “point” of your question, let me say a word or two about doing a tutorial or taking a workshop. I can speak on the subject from both sides, you see.

When You Do a Tutorial…

As a student, I know what it’s like to have a teacher tell me to do something a certain way when I already know from experience that another way works better for me. I always remind myself that the reason I’m taking the workshop or doing the tutorial is to learn how that teacher works. Then I take a deep breath, swallow, and do what the teacher says the way the teacher says to do it.

Afterward, I assess the information I learned, compare it to what I’ve been doing all along, and decide which is the better method for me.

Speaking as a teacher, I know what it’s like to present information a certain way and have a student resist everything I tell them. That was frustrating for me, and it kept the student from learning.

It’s also important to remember that the artist who created the tutorial had to learn those skills at some point. It’s possible he or she was taught to always use sharp pencils. There’s nothing wrong with that. A lot of us learned that way.

But that’s not to say you must use sharp pencils all the time.

Are There Times When a Dull Pencil is Better?

Absolutely!

There are occasions when a dull, or even a blunt pencil produces better results more quickly than a sharp pencil. So I use a dull pencil for those things. Sometimes, I go so far as to put a flat angle on a pencil for some special effect.

When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice
There are different degrees of dull when it comes to colored pencils. The pencil in the center is dull. It’s still got a point, but not as sharp as it could be. The other two pencils have been blunted to an angled wedge shape to put more color on the paper with every stroke.

Drawing Large Areas Quickly

When doing backgrounds or drawing things like the sky, a dull pencil puts more color on the paper with fewer visible pencil strokes than a sharp pencil. If you keep the pressure light, you can get a lot of thin layers down even on a smooth paper like Bristol.

Dull pencils and Base Layers

I often begin a piece by laying down a base color. Usually a color that’s about the same value as the highlights.

The base color is applied with light pressure, and I usually try to make it as smooth as possible. Dull pencils really shine when you draw base layers.

This is especially true if the surface texture of an area is smooth. But it can also be effective under animal hair or the rough surface of a stone.

Drawing base layers and glazing are both ideal times to reach for a dull pencil such as this one. I used this pencil to lay down smooth color, then I used a sharp pencil to add the hair-like strokes.

Dull Pencils are Ideal for Glazing.

When you glaze, you put down just enough color to tint whatever color is already on the paper. With oil painting, you do that by adding painting medium to thin the paint and make it more transparent.

Colored pencils are already translucent, so you don’t need to add anything to them to use them for glazing.

Instead, you glaze by using extremely light pressure and not doing more than one or two layers. Dull pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer.

Use Dull Pencils for a Blending Layer

When I mention a blending layer, I’m not talking about burnishing. I mean a layer of color added over top of a few other layers to smooth out pencil strokes.

A blending layer also makes colors and strokes less obvious. When I do a blending layer, I usually use a warm, light gray. If I need a warmer color, I might use something like Light Umber or Cream. To cool down an area or push it into the background, I might choose Powder Blue or something similar.

The idea, though, is to lay down smooth color and light layers. As with the previous two applications, use light pressure and a couple of layers if needed.

Burnishing Requires Dull Pencils

There’s no way around it. Burnish with a sharp pencil and you’re asking for trouble.

The reason is that you use very heavy pressure when you burnish, and a sharp pencil will break.

Use dull pencils for burnishing
I’m burnishing with a very dull colorless blender here, but you can also burnish with a colored pencil. When you do, use a blunt pencil to avoid damaging the drawing or the paper.

There You Have It

A few ways you can use dull pencils.

The best advice I can give you is to try different things. If something works for you, use it.

If it doesn’t work, don’t use it again. No two of us work exactly the same way, so try things and decide for yourself!

2 Replies to “When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice”

  1. I really appreciate your input into using colored pencils. I seem to have the most luck with them but have really blossomed with your tips and techniques. Thank you and Happy Holidays!

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