Cathleen Lengyel > Scribbles > Artist Help > Basics > Pencils Everywhere, But Which Do I Choose?

Pencils Everywhere, But Which Do I Choose?

Large ArtBin - Open Top View
My Toolbox With My Pencil Stash
In my previous post I talked about the different grades of graphite from 9H to 9B. Today, I’ll talk more about the brands of graphite that I use (or would like to use). Much like any other medium, in graphite there are many brands you can choose.  A nice thing about graphite is that our pencils are not an expensive investment.  However, with so many to choose from, which one is right for you?  Let’s explore the pencils I use, what I use them for and how they perform for me. As you can see above I’ve got a little collection of pencils and believe it or not I do in fact use them all.  Certain brands and types I use for different things.

General Pencil Company Kimberly and Derwent Graphic Pencils

My main two brands are General Pencil Company Kimberly pencils and Derwent Graphic pencils.  Both brands can be purchased as open stock, so I can easily purchase one or two pencils that I need at any given time.  While many graphite pencils can be purchased open stock in store, you need to check with your store to see if they carry them.  If you can’t find them in a store, you can always shop online.    
Left - Derwent Graphite Pencils Right - General's Kimberly Graphite Pencils
Left – Derwent Graphite Pencils
Right – General’s Kimberly Graphite Pencils
Kimberly Pencils
I’ve used Kimberly pencils for over 20 years and they are my go-to for just about everything.  I know them well, I know what they can and can’t do and I’m exceedingly happy with them when creating wildlife art.  They are made by the General Pencil Company in Jersey City, New Jersey in the United States.  They have been making pencils since 1889. Whether I use them for the animals themselves or the background, Kimberly’s give me a nice texture when making fur, bark, ground or anything else with rough textures.  Some might call Kimberly’s scratchy or rough, but that’s exactly why I love them. You can also do some wonderful blending with them and they layer nicely.
Derwent Graphic Pencils
Derwent Pencils are made in England by the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company which was founded in 1832. I’ve been using my Derwent Graphic pencils now for about 6 months. I purchased a full set from 9H to 9B.  I always thought graphite is graphite, I was wrong.  I immediately noticed a smooth creaminess to these pencils.  They glide across the paper so smooth that I found myself having difficulty creating textures such as fur and tree bark.  They are lovely for portraits and smooth skin, water, anything that requires a smooth even tone.  While I did go through a bit of an adjustment period with them, I now love them because I know when/how to use them.  I especially enjoy their range of H pencils.  When working on human portraits, having 5H-9H pencils is just what I need for skin tones.  They also blend easily with a brush.  

Now let’s look at my Staedtlers.

Staedtler Lead Holders & leads
Staedtler Lead Holders & leads
Staedtler Pencils
Staedtler Pencils are made in Nuremburg, Germany by the Staedtler Mars GmbH & Co. KG which was founded in 1835. These are not the regular Staedtler pencils.  These are Staedtler Mars Technico lead holders also known as clutch pencils.  Clutch pencils are mechanical pencils, but they are a far cry from your average mechanical pencil at the office supply store.  These have 2mm leads that can be sharpened to a nice point.  I purchased these for doing fine details in my art.  I’ve only been using them about 2 months now, but I absolutely love them! The body of the pencil is a hard plastic with the lower end is made of metal.  They have a nice heavy feel in the hand, but not too heavy.  They really have a nice balance to them in my hand when I draw.  Each cap at the end of the pencil contains a tiny lead pointer (sharpener).  You simply pull out the push button and then insert your lead and gently turn.
Lead Pointer in the Removable Cap
Lead Pointer in the Removable Cap
Warning: Be very careful to tap out all the graphite after sharpening your leads.  I thought I had tapped it all out when suddenly as I was drawing some graphite powder fell out onto my picture.   Staedtler also sells a lead pointer (a special type of sharpener) which is something I will be purchasing in the future. Another nice thing about using a clutch pencil is that as you’re drawing, your pencil never changes.  You don’t need any sort of pencil extender because your pencil is so short from sharpening and use.  When your lead is low or gone, simply pop in a new lead!
Depressing the cap releases the clutch that holds the leads.
Depressing the cap releases the clutch that holds the leads.
*TIP: you can keep the graphite powder from sharpening them and use it as you would use any graphite powder.  That way no graphite goes to waste. I only purchased the small packages of leads because I was only trying these out.  However, if you buy the larger 12 packs of leads, you also get a new color coded cap.   Since I purchased the smaller refill packs and did not receive new colored caps, so I put a sticker around each clutch with the grade of graphite in the clutch.
Color coded replacement caps for Staedtler Lead Holders.
Color coded replacement caps for Staedtler Lead Holders.
While I do indeed love these clutch pencils I have to admit the graphite tends to be a little lighter in tone than my other pencils of the same value.  Much like the Derwent Graphic pencils, they have a nice smooth stroke and blend with ease.  
Woodless Graphite Pencils
Woodless Graphite Pencils
Woodless Graphite Pencils
There are many brands of woodless graphite pencils.  I have a few different brands in my toolbox that I’ve collected over the years:
  • Pentalic
  • Koh-I-Nor Hardmuth
  • Koh-I-Nor Progresso
  • Cretacolor Monolith
Woodless pencils are solid graphite that is coated in a lacquer or sometimes encased in plastic.  I rarely use my woodless pencils to draw.  What I do use them for is creating graphite powder in various grades.  Either using a sharpener or scraping with an exacto knife you can collect the graphite.  I have several small containers, each marked with the grade of graphite powder inside. You can also use a knife to scrape graphite off the woodless pencil and directly onto your paper. Note: You need to be very careful with woodless pencils, if you drop them they will break or even shatter!  
Other Brands
Recently while cleaning out some of my older art supplies I came across an unused 2B Faber Castell 9000 pencil.  I sharpened it up and gave it a try.  WOW!  I really like the feel of this pencil.  The graphite feels like it’s somewhere between my Derwent and Kimberly pencils.  It’s a lovely smooth stroke, but not too smooth. I feel I’d have the best of both worlds with these pencils.  While smooth and blend-able they are still capable of creating the texture I like for fur.  I am hoping to get a set to try out this upcoming year. Another brand I would like to try is the Caran d’Ache Grafwood pencils.  The Caran d’Ache company is based in Switzerland.  I don’t have any experience with them, however the Caran d’Ache brand is known for it’s exemplary products and high standards. There are many other brands out there to discover as well. So which pencil is right for you? My best advice is to buy the same pencil in several different brands.  Maybe pick up a 2B or 3B in each of the brands that interests you and then give them a try.  Each brand will have it’s own unique qualities that you’ll either love or hate.  You’ll never know until you try them! Until next time, Keep Creating!
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