Kathie asks today about dull pencils and when they might be the best choice for working on a drawing. 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.
That’s a fantastic question, Kathie, and I know exactly what you’re saying.
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, 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, 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?
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.
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.
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, light pressure is a must. Add a layer or two, then evaluate the results. Continue this process until you have the results you want.
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.
Dull Pencils and Sanded Art Papers
If you’ve drawn on sanded art papers like Pastelmat or Uart, you already know the value of dull pencils. If you haven’t, then almost the first thing you’ll discover is that sharp pencils don’t stay sharp for very long on sanded papers.
In fact, I don’t sharpen my pencils nearly as much when I draw on sanded art papers because I don’t need to. Dull and blunt pencils work great and I can easily put a point on a pencil just by drawing with the side of it for a few strokes.
Besides, why leave all that pigment in a sharpener when I can put it on 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!
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