The meaning of pencils

I love sharpening pencils, as it reminds me of sitting on the back step as a child, and watching how my father sharpened pencils – always using a knife. He was never without a pencil, which he kept behind one ear, whether for jotting down sales in his bookshop, or sketching a scene for painting. ‘A sharpener doesn’t give nuance to the lead’, he told me, and I only discovered the value of this statement when I became an artist much later in my life.

one of my boxes of colour pencils

I had planned doing a botanical kind of drawing this week, showing three stages of our native Pohutukawa tree, which are abundant around this area. I walked along the waterfront and stopped to take a photo of a clutch of new buds. Next I photographed a limb, a great example of its old bark; a least a hundred years old. Then I plucked some coloured leaves from the footpath, a last memory of autumn. The plan: three sketches, using different drawing mediums for each one. That afternoon I pulled out my scalpel and sharpened the colours I would need. I drew the two leaves, one reddish and one more golden and it didn’t take me long to finish.

pohutukawa leaves

My plan only reached first base. But, I thought I’d tell you how I go about drawing using colour, which is not just a matter of sketching with graphite and then adding colour. I don’t use graphite when using colour pencil, as I sketch in lightly with colour from the start. I chose the red leaf to draw first, and examined it carefully. Which I note, is the most vital start for any sketch. I selected two reds from my Faber-Castell collection: Dark Carmine, and Indian for the deep tones, with Dark Orange under Indian Red for the lighter side. I could see the stem was yellowish, and the edges the same, with a touch of green. I used Lemon Cadmium, and Apple Green here. I used Dark Sepia for the darker textural lines.

The leaf was curling, and with any sketch when creating a curve, it is necessary to draw using a curved motion. There was also a rippled look to the edges, and to achieve this I apply and lessen pressure to my hand, thus creating a line which is thick, then thin when necessary, showing variance in movement. I drew the yellow leaf in the same manner, using a mix of Burnt Ochre, Orange Yellow, and Dark Sepia again.

Next time, I’ll work with graphite, and explain what my father meant by the nuance in the pencil lead when sharpened with a knife, and how that helps your drawing. Thanks for your patience.

1 thought on “The meaning of pencils

  1. Vivienne, this single sentence contains most of my favourite things: “He was never without a pencil, which he kept behind one ear, whether for jotting down sales in his bookshop, or sketching a scene for painting.” Thanks!


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