Sketching on Location: Pencil Technique

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu continues with his sixth sketching on location teaching installment. This month he is discussing the artists most basic of tools and how it should be properly used: the pencil!

This is the sixth in a new series of bi-monthly articles about sketching on location. The articles are based on my Sketching on Location Manual. The manual was developed as a series of lessons that I use on my guided sketching tours of Europe, and that I use as material in my regular drawing classes. As such the lessons can be part of a regular course or can be used by individual students as a practical learning guide. In the last chapter we worked on "Texture as Planes in Space." If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 2000 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach. If you really want to start at the beginning open with the lessons based on the Vilppu Drawing Manual.

All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

Pencil Technique

One of the most useful tools for sketching is the soft broad lead pencil. A pencil and a sketchbook are the fundamental tools of an artist in the field. With a simple graphite pencil you can capture almost any subject, be it a cityscape or a careful portrait. All we have to do is to look at the drawings in pencil by Ingres, Degas, Sargent and Mentzel to see the possibilities of the pencil. The 2B pencil has a good general purpose range of values if you are just using one pencil. The HB and 6B pencils will give you a bit more flexibility, but for myself, having had for many years pockets full of pencils, I now carry just one, a 2B.

The next point is that you need to sharpen the pencil properly. By sharpening "properly," I mean that you need to be able to make both broad tones and thin lines with the pencil. Essentially, this requires that you have a fair amount of lead showing and that you blunt the end at an angle so that you have the ability to use the side as well as the tip to make strokes. Look at the diagram to get an idea of the way the end of the pencil should look. I carry a pocket-knife for the sole purpose of sharpening my pencil when I am out in the field. To get the flat side, almost any rough surface, from the sidewalk, a stone, to an extra piece of paper will work. You will quickly see why this is referred to as the "broad pencil technique."

In lesson five we dealt with different textures. In this lesson we will continue to use different textures and also incorporate the use of contrasting darks and lights in both defining planes and creating patterns. You will find it useful to practice creating different kinds of textures. In a rather short time, you will build a repertoire of useful kinds of strokes to indicate a variety of surfaces and materials. Look at the examples and see how varied the strokes can be. In doing the drawing, try to think of each stroke of the pencil as if you were putting down a brushstroke. Remember, "There are no rules, just tools."

View more examples on the following pages.

Glenn Vilppu first wrote for Animation World Magazine in the June 1997 issue, "Never Underestimate the Power of Life Drawing." His drawing manuals and video tapes may be purchased in the Animation World Store.

Glenn Vilppu teaches figure drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and has been sent to teach artists at Disney TV studios in Japan, Canada and the Philippines. Vilppu has also worked in the animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students.

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