Might seem overdramatic, but learning this tip (see what I did there…ha) literally changed my life. Or at least transformed my approach to my drawing and drastically improved the level of realism I could achieve.
DISCLAIMER: these are tips that worked for me personally when on the epic search for creating realism and I liked the outcome – if you find you like the results of other methods PLEASE KEEP DOING THEM!
Let’s get into it. I would say how sharp your pencil needs to be depends on a few things:
What effect you would like to achieve
Materials you are using
Which layer you’re working on
Your budget (you’ll see why this is a factor below!)
This article is aimed at those specifically wanting to achieve more realism in their portraits and drawings. I’m not a renowned expert at realism, it’s just my thing – or I would like it to be my thing anyway. If you’re wanting to draw more realistically, these tips might work really well for you.
I use Clairefontaine Pastelmat and Faber-Castell Polychromos for most of my work currently. Pastelmat is quite a thick paper that has ‘tooth’ (meaning ‘hills and valleys’ on the surface), that can take many layers. I haven’t yet used a smoother paper, but I think these usually can’t take as many layers, therefore the process is slightly different.
To achieve a smoother and more realistic effect – and avoid graininess – the pencil needs to cover the surface of the paper and get into the ‘valleys’ and onto the ‘hills’, which can be achieved by layering, blending and burnishing.
At the different stages of layering in particular, it helps to have the pencil at different sharpness.
First Stages of Layering:
I usually start with the base and colour blocking. Light pressure, holding the pencil halfway down. My pencil usually looks like this:
A blunter pencil helps cover more area quickly. If your pencil is too sharp at this stage, use the side of it.
Middle Stages of Layering:
My pencil usually looks like this halfway through:
Not blunt, not super sharp, as I am working towards putting more detail in.
Final Layer and Detailing:
At this point, my pencil looks like this:
Pretty sharp, right? I’ve found the Polychromos sharpen well to a sharp point, and I haven’t had any break on me yet (fingers crossed). I would highly recommend investing in a decent pencil sharpener… pencil breakage rage is REAL. There is nothing more annoying than your pencils constantly breaking due to a rubbish sharpener, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on high-quality pencils.
I usually use the hardest pressure at this stage and hold the pencil closer to the point (as pictured). It helps to keep turning the pencil as you work to make the most of the sharpness. Basically, if you want super fine detail, you need a super sharp pencil.
Warning: Coloured Pencils are an Expensive (Addictive) Habit
There’s no getting round it, decent coloured pencils do not come cheap. As this is my career, I happily invest in them because I want the best quality and to achieve the best results.
But… keeping your pencils super sharp, especially if you like doing a lot of detailed work, means they can get eaten up fairly fast. Just something to consider if you’d like to jump down into the rabbit hole to the beautiful world of coloured pencils. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED 😊
Any questions at all please don’t hesitate to ask! Happy drawing x