Portraiture, Fine Art, & Photography

Commission a Portrait for the Perfect Gift!



Custom Search
Choose a Service

Keeping Blacks, Black

Contrast is essential to realistic graphite pencil drawings, so it's important that your blacks are true blacks and your whites true white. This article will cover using the correct pencils to get dark shades in your art work. If you are just starting out in pencil art, you may be using only one grade of pencil. For example, many start using mechanical pencils or #2 pencils. These do have their place, but you will see a difference when you start using different grades of graphite.


Graphite is graded on a scale of hardness which also dictates the darkness of the pigment.
This chart illustrates some different grades of graphite:


Harder Leads, Thinner Lines,
and Less Pigment
Middle Softer Leads, Thicker Lines,
and More Pigment
8H 6H 4H 2H HB 2B 4B 6B 8B


The "H" stands for "hardness", and the "B" stands for "blackness." Pencils with the "H" grade indicates the lead is harder and will lay down less graphite. These firmer pencils are useful for fine lines and small details, and are often preferred by engineers and architects. The lighter and harder leads sharpen to a great point, and in portraits are useful for rendering hair and fur.


"HB" pencils are completely in the middle of the scale, balancing hardness and pigment. (Most mechanical pencils are "HB".) "2B" pencils are like the plain old #2 pencils you used in school. From "2B" on up the scale indicates softer lead. Pencils with higher numbers lay down more graphite. To get darker values you would want to choose higher "B" grades of graphite. Since these pencils also have softer lead, they blend very easily.


To get nice dark values I use GENERALS "6B" or "8B" Extra Smooth Woodless Graphite pencils. Some pencil artists like to use fine black pens to achieve the darkest values in their drawing. However, ink is unforgiving and you can achieve the same look with a soft graphite pencil. Occasionally I will overlay my darkest shadows with charcoal. This helps reduce the shine of the graphite and increases the depth of the shadows.


If you need to cover large areas with a dark shade, try powdered graphite. GENERALS sells pure powdered graphite in a large plastic bottle. This can be applied with a soft cloth or a blending stick. This renders a darkness similar to a "6B" or "8B" pencil. However, it can be messy, so protect your area and the lighter values in your drawing.


In the next article . . .


After protecting highlights, and drawing in the darkest shadows, its time for shading the mid tones.


Learn more about shading and the tools to use for it in the next article Shades of Gray.



Back to List of Articles




All content and original art works © Nicole I. Hamilton.

Reproduction or use of any content or works without permission is strictly prohibited.

web hit counter