The Weird Thing Is, You Don’t Always Know You’re Doing It

There comes a moment in any ongoing project when I think I’m taking it too seriously and losing the loose qualities of early stages that made me want to continue the thing in the first place.

Overworked drawings are really a thing. Even meticulously crafted pen work needs some freeness about it.

There’s almost always room to free your work of too much control once you recognize what you’re saying and doing with it.

The Building Across the Street As Sketch Subject

It was asking for it. I think my point was going to be that the thing(s) right in front of you are fine subjects to draw. It’s not enough to learn it once, you have to keep at it. As in, daily or near-daily practice.

It’s not much like riding a bike, honestly. It’s like going to the gym. And, unfortunately for my ego, I think my drawing muscles are pretty atrophied. Back to the gym.

Pencil Shootout!

I’ve been looking for a good pencil for journals and notebooks recently. I read a few praises and criticisms of the Blackwing reinterpretations, so when I was at a local art supply store that happened to have them, I picked several up to try.

I wish the reality matched the exciting headline. Imagine literally blasting graphite from a thin cedar wand and watching lesser instruments explode in aromatic burst of shavings.

But I still had fun, and here’s what I decided.

All graphite leads were 2B. The control was one of the beat up Pentel P205s with Pentel lead I’ve used since settling on it as my pencil of choice in art school. I liked that I could quickly rotate to a sharp edge any time, without ever taking time to sharpen or feel the weight change. I’d have preferred a bit more of it, but that’s just the compromise I had to make.

I don’t intend to make this a long post, the results are pretty straightforward.

My faithful plastic pal has a decent thin to thick transition, but it isn’t the best at grading smoothly.

The Blackwing Pearl was an immediate delight. Very smooth with a lovely zero-to-black gradient.

Prismacolor has gone a bit waxy recently, but it’s still a good drawing pencil. Writing, not so much, it’s way too mushy.

The General Pencil Co. Kimberly is sold as a drawing pencil, but it was great to write with, too. It doesn’t mush out or snap off easily, even with as gorilla-like a touch as I have. Celebrated comics artist Michael Kaluta calls it the “chop it out of the page” approach. The Kimberly was the best compromise between writing and drawing facility.

The Staedtler Mars Lumograph black is tightly precise, which is something I’d prize for linework, but isn’t my favorite for shading. Also, it didn’t flow as well as I wanted when writing.

So, I settled on the Blackwing Pearl and the General Kimberly. I did a short “long point” test (below) to check ease of writing and duration of the point.

After that, a short text sample.

Interestingly, I found when I tried to press more lightly the Blackwing worked a lot better. But it still wasn’t as consistent as the General. The only thing is, that eraser is really handy, and I have to use it a bunch. I’m not sure the eraserless Kimberly is a good fit for what I want.

And, hey, that’s pretty much it. I’ll get back to you about which one keeps me picking it up after a few weeks.

Tool Shift

I’ve been missing having so much time with traditional art tools since I graduated and started practicing up my digital ones. But there’ve been recent rumblings about the real stuff and I’ve begun questing for some quality pencils to go with the paper I’ve set aside to make my next sketchbook (Strathmore 400 recycled, if you’re in the market).

Writing and drawing—not to mention cartooning—with physical tools is as much hearing the graphite sizzle across the page as it is constructing sentences. We’re forced to slow down, be deliberate, get our fingers dirty.

Changing up tools is resetting your habits and breaking the ubiquity of screens and electronic devices we’re surrounded with. That can reconnect us not only with the past, but with slightly disused brain pathways.