The Pencil Grading Scale Explained 2021: Absolutely Everything About Graphite Drawing Pencils

The Pencil Grading Scale Explained 2021_ Absolutely Everything About Graphite Drawing Pencils

Understanding Your Materials

Understanding is a beautiful, and usually beneficial thing. On our journey for knowledge about art, and as we study and practice the Art Fundamentals, we should make a point of understanding the materials we use. Even a basic grasp of the many factors that determine the quality and grade of our materials—such as graphite pencils and charcoal—will improve our skill in using them.

A basic knowledge of your materials’ origin, history, composition, grades, characteristics, and form varieties will improve your drawings and inspire a deeper appreciation and understanding for your art craft. Understanding which grades of graphite pencil to choose as we create a still life or a portrait allows us to make drawings with confidence and access the full range of values needed for our projects.

Frequently Asked Questions About Graphite Pencils

Some of the most frequently asked questions about graphite pencils are related to graphite itself (what is it, anyway?), the pencil grading scale, what the numbers and letters on pencils mean, how to sharpen pencils, when and where the pencil was invented, how pencils are made, why graphite sticks are called “lead”, and the safety of using graphite (can one get lead poisoning from pencil lead?).

I want to give you a heads up here that this is a more technical subject. I’ve tried to keep it succinct, clear, and interesting without adding too much fluff or going into information overload, but facts based in science don’t lend themselves to word artistry or prose so hang in there with me, ok? Besides, it’s the information we’re after so our improved understanding can begin to shine through our art.

So, let’s dig into the science, history, life, making, and safety of pencils so we can answer as many of those questions as possible.

The Science—What is graphite?

Graphite is a naturally occurring form of crystalline carbon, and the most stable form of carbon. Graphite is a mineral, and its extreme properties (extremely soft, extremely heat resistant, etc.) give it a wide range of uses in metallurgy and manufacturing. It is highly conductive for heat and electricity, and flexible but not elastic, which make it useful in electronic products like batteries. Graphite is primarily used in pencils and lubricants.

Graphite is composed of flat sheets of carbon atoms stacked on top of one another, which slide apart easily because the bonds between them are weak. This means natural graphite has incredibly low hardness, so when we drag our graphite pencil across paper those flat sheets of carbon are left behind and create a mark.

A Mark Maker: The History of Graphite

In a place called Borrowdale, near Keswick in the Lake District of England, a large deposit of graphite was discovered by locals after it was revealed by a storm in the 16th century. Due in part to its resemblance to lead in color and appearance—and the infant state of relevant sciences like Chemistry and metallurgy at the time—the substance we know to be graphite was at that time named plumbago (Latin for ‘lead ore’) because it was believed to be a form of black lead rather than carbon.

For many years, the graphite deposit in Borrowdale was the only large source of graphite, which gave England a monopoly on graphite sticks. Trade embargos during the 18th century Napoleonic Wars forced the French Republic to come up with their own version of the graphite sticks that did not rely on imports.  French army officer, painter, chemist, and balloonist Nicholas Jacques Conté had the idea of mixing powdered graphite with clay and water, and then firing the mixture in a kiln.

Conté’s innovation ended England’s monopoly on pencil production, and he continued to develop his manufacturing process by varying the quantities of clay and graphite to change the hardness of the graphite core. Conté’s experimentation and refinement of his process lead to the range of graded pencils we enjoy today, which use the alphanumeric grading scale we’ve become familiar with.

Graphite Pencil Grading Scale Explained

I have never been a fan of standardized testing, but I liked those spiffy #2 pencils. You know you have a maker’s heart when freshly sharpened pencils make you smile, but I digress. When we were filling in our answer bubbles on those tests, we were unwittingly being introduced to the middle of the graphite pencil grading scale.

The #2 pencil is part of the American system for grading “lead” hardness, and it corresponds to the HB pencil on the European grading system. HB is the middle grade pencil, meaning that it contains equal parts graphite and clay for a balance of softness and harness.

The Alphanumeric Scale

Now let’s talk letters and numbers so we can understand this alphanumeric system. The letters used are “H”, “F”, and “B”.

“H” stands for hard; “F” stands for fine, because it can be sharpened to a fine point; and “B” stands for Black.

Higher numbers in front of the “H” mean a harder pencil, while a higher number in front of the “B” means a softer pencil. The harder the graphite core of the pencil, the lighter the mark it makes, and the softer the core, the darker the mark.

Together the numbers and letters create the alphanumeric system used to describe the pencil’s hardness or softness, also called a grading system. This system refers to the ratio of binder to graphite present in the mixture of the pencil’s graphite core, commonly called “lead” (a persistent misnomer, as there is no lead in graphite pencils). The variety of ratios for this mixture is what Nicholas Jacques Conté innovated, and it is what gives us the 24 graphite pencil grades—and full value range—we enjoy today.

The harder the pencil (the “H” end of the scale), the more clay is present in the mixture recipe. Graphite, not clay, is the mark maker of this mixture, so less graphite means less mark making material is present. Marks by pencils from the “H” side of the scale will stay on the lighter end of the value scale.

The opposite is true for the “B” side of the grading scale. The more graphite is present in the mixture, the softer the graphite core will be. More graphite means more mark making material is present in the pencil, keeping marks from “B” pencils on the darker end of the value scale.

Graphite Pencil Grading Scale

How the mixture of graphite powder and clay powder are formulated determines a pencil’s “lead” grade. Below are the charts for both the European and American hardness grading systems.

European Grading System (alphanumeric):

Harder Graphite Core = Lighter Marks

10H ◀ 9H ◀ 8H ◀ 7H ◀ 6H ◀ 5H ◀ 4H ◀ 3H ◀ 2H ◀ H ◀ F

Middle Grade = Balanced

F ◀ HB ► B

Softer Graphite Core = Darker Marks

B ► 2B ►3B ►4B ► 6B ► 7B ► 8B ► 9B ► 10B ► 11B ► 12B

American Grading System (with corresponding equivalents to European System for clarity):

#1 – B

#2 – HB

#2 ½ — F

#3 – H

#4 – 2H

The American grading system is much more abbreviated and appears to have been conceived primarily for pencils used for general writing and drafting purposes. The more expansive, full range of values of the European grading system is preferred and used by artists.

Binders

As you begin learning about artist materials, you’ll hear the term “binder” mentioned, especially when discussing paints. Binders, or binding agents, are substances or materials used to hold or bring together other materials so a cohesive whole can be formed to create the tools and surfaces we use. Binders are part of the mixture (or recipe) for creating art materials, such as graphite and charcoal “leads” and sticks, pastels, paints, etc.

Binders are often liquid, powder, or dough-like substances that bind other materials together through mixing and then hardening via a chemical or physical process. In the case of artists’ materials, binders are used to hold together pigments and other materials—like graphite powder—used to create the tools and supplies we need for our art-making.

Binding agents include materials like wax, linseed oil, natural gums, proteins (egg white or casein), and clay—which is the binding agent for graphite “leads” and is usually a mixture of calcium bentonite and kaolin.

When the world was younger, materials like egg, wax, honey, lime, casein, linseed oil, or bitumen were mixed with pigment by artists to form paints. From the Middle Ages through the early 16th century, egg-based tempera was a popular binder in Europe. Oil and acrylic polymer have been the binders of choice for paint for quite some time, with oil beginning in 15th century Belgium and acrylics getting their start in 1953 (aww, like a baby paint compared to oils!).

A Pencil’s Life: Making Marks and Keeping Its Edge

The grade of pencil leads affects not only our choices about their use in our work, but also how frequently they must be sharpened, their smudge resistance, strength, smoothness, and pigmentation. Harder pencils retain a point longer and require less sharpening, while softer pencils lose their point faster and require more frequent sharpening. So, if you have a drawing with a lot of dark and velvety blacks, you are likely to run through your softer leads much more quickly.

On the flip side, while softer leads do require more frequent sharpening, they also offer a softer and smoother application on your surface. Comparatively, harder pencils can feel a bit rougher and scratchy, but they’re helpful when you need lighter values.

Drawing Further: Journey to Modern-Day Pencils

There is a bit more history involved to bridge the timeline between the Conté process and the pencils we use today. When it comes to whose idea it was to place the graphite core between to half-cylinders of wood, I have found competing information. Some sources say Conté had the idea, while others say the addition of a wooden casing was first conceived by an Italian couple by the names of Lyndiana and Simonio Bernacotti.

If it was indeed the Bernacottis, that would mean many of those British sourced graphite sticks were finding their way into rudimentary wooden casings as early as the 1560s. Conté, on the other hand, received a patent for his invention in 1795 and formed La Société Conté to produce his pencils. That is a time gap of over 200 years, but I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Regardless, the pencil manufacturing process has evolved over time to use the wooden casings we’re familiar with and to include the range of 24 leads so helpful to our art.

How Pencils Are Made

It is during the early stages of the manufacturing process that a pencil’s degree of hardness is determined. The first stage in making graphite pencils is to create a mixture of graphite powder, clay, and water. The variation in the degree of hardness (the graphite to clay ratio) is what gives us so many grades of graphite pencils, most commonly ranging from 9H to 9B in a set.

As I mentioned earlier, softer and darker graphite pencils are created when the mixture contains increasing amounts of graphite; hard grades are created when the proportion of clay is higher than that of the graphite powder.

Making the “Leads”

Once the desired mixture is created it is then pressed through a machine to create the cylindrical core shape (“lead”) and cut to a consistent length before being set to dry. Once dry, the leads go through a firing process and then on to a wax bath. Before the pencils are complete, the wood that will create the casings must go through its own process to be ready to hold the leads.

Making the Wooden Casings

To become the casing for graphite “leads”, pre-cut wooden slats have grooves machine milled into them. Glue is applied in the grooves, the leads are then inserted into the grooves, and a second milled slat with glue is applied on top to close the “slat sandwich”. These “slat sandwiches” are then placed into a large drying wheel before being sent through another machine to mill (cut) the individual pencils from the sandwiches.

The pencil cylinders are available in multiple shapes, such as hexagonal, circular, and rounded triangles. The hexagonal shape is the most common casing shape and keeps pencils from rolling off our desks.

The next step is to paint and stamp the pencils. Paint is mixed and each pencil receives a coat of it through a lacquering head machine before being stamped, dipped, and finally set to dry in a drying room. The finishing process for pencils involves a series of quality tests, including withstanding pressure, sharpening, and visual inspection before packaging.

The pencil making process I have been describing here refers to artists’ drawing pencils. The process is largely the same for standard writing pencils, like the #2 HB pencil, but there are a few differences. Primarily those differences involve the additional step of attaching a ferrule and eraser to one end of the pencils through a rubber tip assembly machine.

Here are a couple from FaberCastell USA, Insider, and NPR’s Skunk Bear of videos that illustrate the pencil making process:

Some Fun Bits About Pencils

It is important to understand our materials, but there’s no reason we can’t make it fun, right? Here are some fun tidbits I found about pencils, their history, and people who have used them:

The average pencil can draw a line 35 miles long, write about 45,000 words, and be sharpened 17 times.

Graphite’s ability to leave marks on paper and other objects is what earned it its name, which was given by German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789.

Graphite comes from the Ancient Greek γράφειν (“graphein”), meaning to write or to draw.

Breadcrumbs were used to erase mistakes before erasers were invented.

The average size Cedar tree can be used to make about 300,00 pencils.

Pencils have been to space! They can write in zero gravity and have been used on space missions by astronauts.

Pencils can write underwater! (I’m skeptical, but it sounds cool)

Henry David Thoreau used to design pencils at his father’s pencil factory.

Thomas Edison liked to use specially made pencils that were shorter and thicker, 3 inches instead of the standard 7.5 inch size.

Hymen Lipman was the first person to attach an eraser to the end of a pencil on March 30th, 1858. Bye-bye breadcrumbs!

The darkest grade of artist’s graphite pencil is 12B, while the lightest is 10H.

Ernest Hemingway recommended writing fiction with a pencil because it “gives you one-third more chance to improve it [your writing].”

John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway both wrote their novels in pencil first.

The Best Lead Grade: Choosing Graphite Pencil Grades for Drawing

Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with some of the science, history, life and making of graphite pencils, it’s easier to understand how and why pencil marks behave as they do on paper.

“H” pencils are quite smudge-resistant because they contain more binder than graphite powder. This means they give cleaner lines and makes them helpful for lighter toned work such as technical drawings, outlines, light sketching, and under-drawings in preparation for painting. One tradeoff is their increased scratchiness the further up the H scale you go, but this can be remedied by pairing them with middle grade (F and HB) and B pencils.

“B” pencils are amazingly smooth to draw and write with. Their higher graphite to clay mixture means they smudge easily, but their marks are generally just as easily erased. Their softer nature offers artists the ability to make more expressive and brush-like marks, especially from the higher end of the B scale.

This knowledge and understanding helps us make decisions about which grades of graphite pencils to choose for our drawings.

If the goal for a drawing is to illustrate a frozen tundra in the arctic on a sunny day, the soft and dark leads won’t play much of a role in that project because the scene calls for light tones—and light tones are achieved with hard and middle grade pencils, not soft ones. Of course, the opposite is true for a scene with a clandestine meeting—the cover of darkness is best drawn with soft, B graded pencils.

I recommend having a set of 24 graphite pencils so you have the full value range available to you. It’s best to choose tools that serve the goals and stories of your art, rather than trying to make the story fit the supplies. Here are a couple of examples from my portfolio to give you an idea of what you can do with a full set of graphite pencils (or “leads” and a lead holder), tons of practice, and a healthy dose of patience.

Beyond the needs of your project, the other considerations primarily revolve around your own preferences, workflow, and budget. In my Drawing Tools & Materials for Beginners post, I discuss my recommendations for the supplies beginning artists need to practice the fundamentals of art. Still, at the start, a lot of practice sketches and finished drawings can be accomplished with a simple sketchbook, a pad of quality drawing paper, and a full set of drawing pencils.

Again, having tools that give you access to the full spectrum of values is incredibly important; after that, it’s a matter of tons of mileage and practice. Once you commit to that, nothing can stop you.

Safety & Toxicity: Can One Get Lead Poisoning from Pencil Lead?

The short answer is No. It’s impossible to get lead poisoning from graphite pencils because they contain no lead. Graphite and lead are chemically and atomically completely different substances and are only slightly similar in appearance—but even visually they are clearly different, as you can see below.

Graphite pencils are usually classified as nontoxic because graphite is a minimally toxic carbon-based substance when swallowed or drawn onto the skin. So, when you accidentally poke your hands with your sharpened pencil, you won’t be poisoned or infected by the graphite—but, as with any injury, you should immediately clean and tend to the affected area.

The biggest danger with pencils lies in where you poke or stab yourself (or someone else, but…let’s avoid stabbing people, shall we?) and how severely the resulting injury is. If you somehow are stabbed with a pencil forcefully enough to draw large amounts of blood, the bleeding and severity of the wound is a more immediate concern than the presence of graphite and immediate medical attention would be necessary.

Avoid having pencils (or any other tool) anywhere near your eyes, mouth, nose, and any other sensitive body part or orifice. It’s never a good idea to insert or ingest foreign materials, so if you tend to fidget please get a fidget toy instead of chewing on your pencil!

Working with graphite powder, rather than pencils, can get a little dicey. Powders and dusts always come with inhalation and respiratory risks, so when using graphite powder as a medium be sure to wear a simple mask or face covering and keep your workspace well ventilated. Inhalation of graphite powder can cause irritation to the respiratory tract, coughing, shortness of breath and black sputum.

Long term or chronic exposure to graphite powder has been associated with the development of a lung disease called pneumoconiosis. Ingestion of large amounts of graphite powder may cause gastrointestinal irritation.[1]

Basically, graphite pencils and powder are safe to use and minimally toxic so long as you don’t eat, inhale, or seriously stab yourself with them. Getting a bit of graphite onto your skin while you work won’t harm you at all, but do be sure to wash your hands when you’re done working.

Hey, look! You’re still here, and we’re done! Thank you for hanging in there with me. I know this topic was more technical, but I hope I was able to keep it interesting and answer your questions about graphite pencils, the pencil grading scale, and the safe use of pencils. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comments below.

Further Reading

The History of the Pencil by Pen2Paper


[1] http://www.physics.purdue.edu/primelab/safety/MSDS/graphite%20%20-%20Mega%20Graphite.pdf

Art reference 2021: How to create your own delightfully useful art reference boards

Art reference_How to create your own awesome art reference boards

Hello fellow artists, and welcome to my article about art references!

Access to useful art references, learning where to find them, and knowing how to create and use them are essential aspects of our art craft.

I’ll try to cover all the bases, including:

  • What art references are.
  • Why it is artists need and use references.
  • How artists’ options and use of art reference have evolved.
  • Sharing the way I learned to create reference boards.
  • A few alternative ways for creating your own references.
  • How to use references.
  • Where to find art references.

What is art reference?

Art reference comes in several different forms, but it’s essentially a tool to help us study and understand our subject’s shapes, forms, and other characteristics.

As a tool, art reference comes in two forms: three-dimensional or two-dimensional.

We can always draw what’s in front of us (Yay! 👏🏾).

Drawing from life is an essential skill and one of the art fundamentals. Having physical access to our subject–being able to touch, hold, and see it from different angles, gives us the best opportunity to understand all of its forms and characteristics.

But, let’s face it, much of what we draw is make-believe or not easily accessible. For example, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never caught any dragons, cyborgs, or fairies hanging out in my neighborhood. Likewise, when I needed to learn how to draw a pumpkin, I couldn’t just pop down to the store and easily buy one because it was springtime in Texas–not a pumpkin in sight (but plenty of lovely bluebonnets).

This is where two-dimensional references come in.

When I was learning how to draw a mushroom, creating my own reference board allowed me to study and learn about many different kinds of mushrooms I didn’t know existed. Another benefit of reference image hunting is that it allows us to see our subject through the eyes of the people who took the photographs, and that often inspires ideas we might not have thought of on our own.

To be clear, I’m not discouraging drawing from life—quite the contrary. If I had a woodland forest with creatures galore in my backyard, I’d happily hike there for hours to draw the references I need from there–but…I live in the suburbs, so that’s not a thing. 😜

Why do we use art references?

Early in my artistic journey, I heard foolishness and dribble around using art references for drawing. Many people believe the rather silly notion that all artists should draw with nothing more than their “innate” skill, a few tools, and imagination.

Poppycock and utter nonsense!

Can we draw from imagination? Of course, but there’s so much more to being an artist. Our imagination and desire to create are the starting point and our sustaining thread. However, just because I can flip on a light switch doesn’t mean I’m qualified to perform electrical work. Likewise, buying food at the grocery store doesn’t mean I can cook edible meals. I’m sure you get the idea.

If you have no experience or familiarity with a subject–if you haven’t even seen it–how could you possibly draw it? Being naturally inclined or gifted at something doesn’t magically bestow omniscience upon us–we must still earn the knowledge, do the work, and use the tools. Art references are essential tools that help us create.

A necessity, not “cheating!

You may have also heard that using references is somehow “cheating” at art. 🙄

That is a load of hooey and rubbish! I call shenanigans!

We use books and other visuals to help us learn literally everything. When you cook a new dish for the first time, do you wing it from your imagination? Probably not. I bet you use the lovely cooking reference called a recipe, right? I don’t think anyone believes they’re “cheating” at cooking because they use a recipe. I used DIY YouTube videos to learn how to install a toilet myself and save money. That’s not “cheating” on home repair.

If anyone has ever dimmed the light of your confidence by suggesting it would be “cheating” your art to use a reference, I hope this puts your mind at ease. If you’re using references to help you study, practice, and create, you’re doing right by yourself and your artwork. Keep it up!

The evolution of art reference

We’ve all seen the paintings, drawings, and period pieces that give us an illustration of what it was like to be an artist in centuries past.

There were no smartphones, computers, or internet for easy access to online drawing tutorials. The creation of artwork couldn’t rely on stunning photo references in books, websites, or an app. Everything was analog and by hand for every person and every kind of job. When royalty or a noble family commissioned a portrait, they did not send a photo or two to the artist. Instead, they had to stand or sit, for hours at a time over several days or weeks, to acquire their likeness from an artist’s brush.

The two types of art references still existed even then, but artists couldn’t always create photo references to use in the studio. Leonardo Da Vinci mastered anatomy in the 15th century by dissecting more than 30 corpses and meticulously studying what he found through drawing. Two-dimensional reference had to be created through study from observation first and then taken into the studio and combined with the artist’s skill and memory. I’m sure imagination played a role, but that creativity was undeniably and greatly supported by robust study and drawing practice first.

The proliferation of the camera, and the use of the Camera Obscura as a drawing aid, didn’t come until after Da Vinci’s time. More widespread and commercial use of the camera began with the Daguerreotype and calotype processes around 1839. Still, it wasn’t until the invention of photographic film and the Brownie camera in the late 1900s and early 20th century that artists’ ability to create and access photo references really began to take off.

Since the first 35 mm cameras were made available to the public in 1913 and 1914, there has been a prolific expansion of photography and images. In addition, photographic device technology has advanced dramatically, taking us from the 35 mm camera to camera phones in less than a century.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, artists have had amazing access to make, find, and use reference photos. With the creation of Photoshop in 1988 and Google in 1998, we’ve gained an ever-growing and evolving slate of options for image access and manipulation.

I have found the Photoshop and Google combination particularly helpful and convenient. In addition, there are several ways to create reference images, and I’ll get into that below. But, first, I’d like to share with you the process I learned for making reference boards.

How to create your own art reference boards

With the extraordinary amount of information available globally and through the internet, you would think a simple Google search would provide an extensive library of DIY reference creation tutorials. Unfortunately, it turns out that’s not the case, so I decided to make my own.

More ways of creating reference materials

Reference boards are a great resource for the needs of our artwork, and they are only one of many ways to create and access reference resources.

You’ll remember earlier I mentioned there are two types of reference, two and three dimensional. So let’s talk about the avenues available to us under each type.

Two-dimensional art reference

From collage and studies from life to digital media, there are many 2D reference creation options.

Studies from life and figure drawing

Making drawings of subjects from observation is our most foundational and vital skill as artists. While it’s our most accessible and low-tech reference creation method, it is also, sadly, limited by our location and means to travel.

I live near a major American city, but it doesn’t boast high a high-quality zoo, aquarium, or natural history museum–ideal places for life drawing. Like most artists, my access to a live human model is modest at best, and requires that I drive a good distance from my home, pay a nominal fee, and hope I arrive early enough to get a good spot due to limited seating (and parking).

What we’re able to study from observation in our own neck of the woods depends greatly on the nature and infrastructure of the area and our own circumstances, schedules, and means.

Thankfully, the gaps in reference access can be successfully bridged in other ways.

Photography and found images

These days, it’s a relatively simple thing to get a disposable or one-time-use camera to take reference photos–though it’s also much less necessary now that most people have a camera and mini-computer in their pocket with smartphones.

With touchscreen technology and high megapixel cameras, our phones help us create reference photos at all the different sites we travel to throughout our days. Still, no one’s neighborhood has enough references for creating all their artwork. Found images, primarily from magazines and books, and the Google image search tool come in handy here.

Images can be studied directly from books and magazines to create drawings and studies–and nowadays, we even have e-books and digital copies of magazines, making things quite convenient.

If you’re on a budget (aren’t we all?), there’s always the option of visiting the library to study from their materials, take photos of the reference materials with your phone, check out the materials to borrow for a while or even make photocopies.

Collage (old school)

However you choose to create your reference photos, a useful way of compiling them is to create a collage–a one-stop-shop for all the images you’ve gathered to help your artistic vision.

It’s a little messy and time-consuming, but with a large piece of drawing paper or poster board, a pair of scissors, and some glue or tape, you can easily create a helpful art reference board the old-fashioned way.

Digital collage

The demonstration in my video above shows how to create your own digital collage using Photoshop and Microsoft Paint 3D. Other applications will allow you to do the same thing, like the site Canva and other digital painting apps (especially those that use layers).

3D modeling software

It probably seems odd to put “3D” anything on a list of two-dimensional reference resources, but hear me out. Technically, everything we do on our computers is flat and 2D. It’s all “real” but still rather intangible and amorphous. This is true of the models we can create in applications like Zbrush, Blender, Maya, and 3D Studio Max.

These tools give us the illusion of depth to manipulate data in the form of digital clay, and that is extremely helpful when it allows you to create your own “3D” reference. It’s a step up from a photograph because you can virtually rotate the model and view it from any angle, and that is immensely helpful. The drawback, of course, is that there’s quite a learning curve to sculpt anything useful in these applications, so, depending on your needs, it may or may not suit your process.

Here are a few examples from a Maya build I did to create a digital illustration.

Three-dimensional art reference

Let’s get “real”! Anything you can touch and feel, move around, and manipulate with your hands is three-dimensional. I know what you’re probably thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious! 🙄” I’m nothing if not thorough, and I know that can be annoying sometimes. Would you mind bearing with me? 😉

Nature, models and found objects

These are all self-explanatory. You know what nature is. Models = the live human or animal variety. Found objects are…the random stuff and gubbins that help us practice drawing.

Sculpture and maquettes

These two are also self-explanatory, though I did have to look up maquettes for a better visual. Maquettes are the small preliminary sketches, or models sculptors create before beginning on the final sculpture.

Sometimes making a representation of your subject helps your drawing–it doesn’t have to look good or be accurate so long as you have the major forms where you need them. You could use Play-Doh. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

How to use your reference photos and studies from Life

Step 1: gather references.

Step 2: Draw all the shapes and forms you can see in said references.

Step 3: Keep doing step 2 and become awesome sauce. #sketchdaily.

Reference in the entertainment art world

All artists benefit from using references. So whether you’re an illustrator, a comic artist, a concept artist drawing characters, or a creative influencer on social media like Twitter, reference photos and materials are your best friend.

If you’ve ever seen behind-the-scenes footage for film and video games, you’ll know that artists who work in entertainment art frequently travel to draw on location for the project’s creative development. How cool is that?!

Where to find the stuff: Websites, social media, tutorials, and videos.

To help you build your image library, I’ve included a list of a few useful sites on the web that have stock photos and other reference photo resources. There’s a lot here for figure drawing, human anatomy, and body parts to build your library. Sadly, there isn’t as much for animal anatomy. Tips in that area seem more confined to books, but there are still plenty of images to be found in this list.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you so much for stopping by my site to read this article. I hope you found the tips in my video and the list of resources helpful, and I wish you good luck on your reference photo hunt.

If you have any questions or feedback for me, please leave them in the comments section below.

Take care and happy drawing!

How to draw a red panda (WIP) 2021

Welcome to how to draw a red panda drawing tutorial!

Let’s learn about red pandas!

Exploration and study: Red panda drawing focused on shape and form

Shape breakouts and natural variations

How to draw a red panda: form construction

How to draw a red panda: Form dissection and interior studies

How to draw a red panda step-by-step tutorial

Red panda drawing in Perspective

How to draw a red panda with Light and Shadow

The details and colors of a red panda

Furry fun: Let’s draw a red panda from Imagination!

How to draw a banana (Simple fruity fun 2021)

How to draw a banana drawing tutorial

Welcome to my how to draw a banana drawing tutorial!

Hi everyone! 🖐🏾

Hopefully, you’re all well and ready to learn about bananas and how to draw them. This drawing tutorial is a little different from my others. We’ll still go banana banana for bananas, but I decided to try going heavier on the visuals since they’re such simple forms–until you start peeling them.

First, we’ll learn about what bananas are because it’s important to know something about what you’re drawing. Then, we’ll start getting into the process of how to draw a banana from exploration and study to how to draw a banana step by step, as well as banana drawing with light and shadow and in perspective. There will be quite a few videos in this drawing tutorial to better demonstrate the drawing process.

Most of them are only a few short minutes long and do not have sound–I didn’t think you guys needed to hear my pencil scratching or my kiddos playing in the background 😉.

Alright, let’s get started! As usual, there’s more to them than you can tell from a trip to your local market.

Banana banana! Let’s learn about bananas!

Did you know that a banana is, botanically speaking, a berry? Me either! In some countries, bananas used for cooking might be called “plantains,” which distinguishes them from the dessert variety most common here in the West from the Cavendish group.

A banana is a fruit that varies in size, color, and firmness while usually appearing elongated and curved. It has soft flesh that is abundant in starch and covered with a rind that also varies in color–green, yellow, red, purple, or brown–when ripe.

The banana is grown in 135 countries primarily for its fruit and make banana wine and beer, fiber, and for use as ornamental plants. A raw banana without its peel is 75% water, 23% carbohydrates and contains a very small amount of protein with almost no fat. They offer a modest amount of potassium, vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber, but they are most often used as a staple starch for many populations around the world.

There are as many ways to cook and eat a banana as there are people, and its plant’s flower, leaves, and trunk are used as well. The flower of a banana plant, called a banana heart, is eaten as a vegetable in South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, and its leaves are regularly used as Earth-friendly disposable plates and food containers. Foods are also cooked inside banana plant leaves during steaming or grilling.

Exploration and study: Banana drawing focused on shape and form

As with any form we draw, the first step is to explore and study the major shapes and forms. That begins with gathering references and drawing from them and from life.

Here are a few reference photos I took, along with reference boards I created. You’re welcome to use these in your study if you like.

Shape breakouts and natural variations

The banana is a super simple form, making studying it fairly easy–until you start peeling it 😉. Most of its variation comes in proportion, color, and surface texture.

From here on out, there will be several videos and a few images demonstrating each stage of how to draw a banana.

How to draw a banana: form construction

How to draw a banana: Form dissection and interior studies

Form dissection is all about opening up our forms so we can start understanding and playing with the internal shapes and details. This helps us have fun, learn, and tell stories.

How to draw a banana step-by-step tutorial

How to draw a banana (unpeeled) step-by-step.

In case my video wasn’t clear enough for how to draw a banana step by step, I’ve broken out the steps here with another step by step drawing tutorial of a partially peeled banana.

how to draw a banana_step by step 01

How to draw a banana Step 1

Lay down your gesture line (or line of action). You’ll build your shapes on top of this.

how to draw a banana_step by step 02

Banana drawing Step 2

Begin building each shape you need on top of your gesture line. Lines and shapes build form, so we start there.

how to draw a banana_step by step 03

Banana drawing Step 3

Once you have all the shapes you need blocked in, use lines to connect them, as shown here.

how to draw a banana_step by step 04

Banana drawing Step 4

Start with an ellipse shape around the middle and more gesture lines to begin constructing the peel forms.

how to draw a banana_step by step 05

Banana drawing Step 5

The peel forms are plane shapes, so once you have laid down your gesture lines, it’s a matter of building the plane shapes on top. Next, you choose the length, width, and direction of each peel shape.

how to draw a banana_step by step 06 final

Finishing up!

With all your forms constructed, now is a good time to clean up your sketch and darken it for clarity and finishing.

Here’s the video to go with the step-by-step from above.
Bananas come in bunches, so let’s practice that, too!

How to draw a banana peel step-by-step tutorial

Banana drawing in Perspective

For setting scenes, you need Perspective drawing practice. Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate how to set up your boxes in 1 and 2-point perspectives and how to use them to build in your forms. The process is the same; we’re just adding perspective into the mix.

How to draw a banana with Light and Shadow

Next, in this how to draw a banana drawing tutorial, I’ll cover how to approach basic lighting for the banana bunch I drew earlier. Additionally, I’ve started a series on The Fundamentals of Light if you’d like more in-depth information.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_finished sketch

How to draw a banana with Light & Shadow, Step 1.

The first step is always a solid drawing–no one wants to waste time polishing a turd 😉.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_add local tones

Step 2 – Local tone.

Next, we need to add the local tones. Local tones are your subject’s areas of native lightness or darkness–where each part of the subject lives on the value scale.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_add light source

Step 3 – Light source.

Now, decide on your light source’s direction and intensity (exposure). I’ve kept it simple here, having the light come from the upper right-hand corner with intensity similar to sunlight. If we were tackling color, this would be the time to decide on the light source’s color and temperature.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_first shadow pass

Step 4 – First shadow pass.

Using your light direction and form construction as guides, do a rough pass with a darker tone to block in the basic shadows.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_first light pass

Step 5 – First light pass.

Here is the same idea as the previous step, only now you’re blocking in where the light lands on the bananas.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_2nd shadow pass darker and occluded

Step 6 – Deepen & refine shadows.

With the basic scheme in place, it’s time to deepen the shadows and refine them through blending. There are nearly always places where the light won’t reach, so we need to include occlusion shadows to demonstrate that.

How to draw a banana_Light and shadow step-by-step_with hightlights and reflected light_Completed

Step 7 – More light & finish.

Now the lighting for our how to draw a banana light and shadow demo is nearly complete.

All we need to do now is refine the lights through blending, adding highlights, and adding any necessary bounce or reflected light. Then we’re done!

I didn’t go full-tilt high render here, but it’s enough to illustrate the basics of how to light your own banana drawings.

The fruits of your labor: A bit about details and colors

If you’ve spent any time with me in previous how-to-draw articles, like for mushrooms or pumpkins, you know that I prefer to keep color and surface details separate from the drawing stage. Drawing tutorials are about drawing. When drawing tutorials start trying to cover color and surface textures, things can start to get confusing. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all connected, and everything needs to be addressed and explained. I will do that; I promise–just not here.

My goal here is to give you a solid foundation for drawing a banana without a reference. From a solid drawing foundation, you can build whatever other mood or story elements you want.

Fun with fruit: Let’s draw a banana from Imagination!

I’m not gonna lie; I had a hard time with this. Bananas are so simple that I found it difficult to come up with more than a few funky ideas for imaginative drawings. I’m sure you’ll do better than I did 😉.

Thank you!

It has been my pleasure to create this how to draw a banana drawing lesson 😊. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it helpful.

If you have any questions or feedback for me, please leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you and learn a lesson myself in what you found helpful and what you think could be improved. If any of you have kids, please let me know how well you’re able to go through this with them in the comments! I don’t usually write with kids in mind because of the advanced nature of the drawing process, but I’d love to make my process work for kids, too. Happy drawing, everyone, and take care!


More how-to-draw articles on CecelyV.com:

How to draw a circle

How to draw a cube

How to draw a sphere

How to draw a mushroom

How to draw a pumpkin

How to draw a sphere: A flexible approach to a valuable form, 2021

How to draw a sphere

Welcome to how to draw a sphere!

Hello and welcome fellow artists!

Thank you for visiting this article on my site to learn how to draw a sphere!

I’ll go step-by-step through a few methods for sphere drawing, and most of them focus on drawing spheres not lighting spheres. There’s a distinct difference between drawing forms and adding light and shadow to them.

Drawing solid forms should always come first, then light source, shadows, highlights, etc can come into your picture plane. The goal is to have a solid drawing first, with form space you understand. This makes adding light and shadow so much easier.

I don’t shoot for perfect spheres in all of my examples because there are lots of sphere-like or ovoid forms whose drawing process is nearly identical to spheres. These sphere-like forms are basically variations of a sphere, and it helps to know how to construct those as well.

Let’s dig in! We’ll start by looking at what defines a sphere.

Learning about spheres: The technical stuff and gubbins

Don’t worry, I won’t get too mathematical on you, I promise 😉.

Just as every point on a circle is equidistant from its center, so it is with a sphere. The major difference is a sphere is a three-dimensional form, while a circle is a two-dimensional shape. Shapes, edges, and vertices, and depth create forms, which we also call objects.

So, a sphere is a geometric three-dimensional form whose surface is composed of points that are all equidistant from its center. In general, we use the terms sphere and ball interchangeably, and that’s fine.

Exploration and study: Natural and man-made spheres

We need reference photo materials! We all know what a ball, sphere, sphere-like, and ovoid forms look like, so the value of a reference photo here isn’t really for learning how to draw a sphere. Its value is as a source of inspiration. After learning how to draw a sphere, we’ll want to add surface texture and light–which is where the reference photos come in handy.

Shape breakouts and natural variations

Most objects we see in day-to-day life are spherical or spheroid. That means things like apples, oranges, grapes, water droplets, the human skull, etc are three-dimensional forms that are round, or more or less round. They are not perfect spheres, but they’re visually close enough to be referred to as spheres or spherical.

Here’s a reference board for spherical/spheroid and ovoid objects:

How to draw a sphere step-by-step tutorials

There are three methods I’ll cover here that are strictly drawing only–meaning no tonal value, or light and shade, is used to create the spheres. The first two methods demonstrate how to draw freehand spheres, while the third covers sphere drawing in perspective.

The fourth method I’ll cover here goes step-by-step through how to draw a sphere using light and shadow, both digitally and using graphite. I will demonstrate how to add a light source, form shadow, mid-tone (or half tone), a core shadow, a cast shadow, and a highlight to a flat circle shape to model a sphere. I’ll also demonstrate cast shadow placement using the angle of the light rays from the light source.

In this first method, we’ll draw a sphere by using ellipses to add the illusion of depth to a flat circle shape.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 01

Step One

Draw a circle of any size you like, and try to make it as round as you can.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 02

Step Two

Draw horizontal ellipses within your circle. The band of each ellipse should look and feel like it’s wrapping around the surface of the sphere you’re creating.

This feeling of a contour line wrapping around a form is what ultimately gives our sphere drawing a sense of three-dimensional depth on our picture plane (paper).

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 03

Step Three

Next, repeat the same process from step 2 with vertical ellipses wrapping around the sphere from top to bottom.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 04

Quick Tip!

The way your ellipses wrap around the edges, or outline, of the circle you started with, is very important.

The illusion of depth is created by giving the viewer the feeling the contour lines are wrapping around the form. This creates a sense of depth because it shows plane changes/turns on the form.

2D forms have no depth, so they have no plane changes to indicate a presence in 3D space. Plane changes are the realm of three dimensions.

how to draw a sphere_depth with ellipses method 05

Step Four

Once you’re happy with the sense of depth created by your ellipses, begin darkening the contour lines on the front-facing side of your sphere.

Darkening the contours on the front side, while leaving those in the back lighter, will add a greater sense of depth through value. Darker tones appear to come forward, while lighter tones appear to recede into the background.

To make this process as clear as possible, I created a video to demo the sphere drawing process for this method.

Another method for how to draw a sphere more or less does away with using a circle shape as a starting guide. I don’t find this next method as intuitive or helpful as the method above, but it is another option to consider. It begins with ellipses instead of a circle.

How to draw a sphere: Form dissection

I created the next few videos to demonstrate the form dissection part of how to draw a sphere. When we need to draw something broken, split open, cut up, etc., visual dissection drawing skills come in handy. It’s also useful for investigating and drawing internal shapes and forms, like the juicy insides of a sliced orange or the bloody bits of a battle wound or a sliced-off limb.

The most important thing to remember about the dissection of any form is to do it along believable contour lines, even if you’re not going for a clean look.

Getting a crescent shape from spheres.

Sphere drawing in Perspective

If you’ve visited any of my other how-to-draw articles, first of all, Thank you!

Second, you will have noticed that part of the way I craft these lessons is to demonstrate how to draw the subject in perspective. Perspective drawing is one of the fundamental drawing skills, so I give it a shout-out in each of these articles.

Next, I’ve created a video to demonstrate how some of the process for how to draw a sphere in perspective. As you’ll see in the video, the process is simple but requires quite a bit of repetition.

Below are some images from the video to act as another reference for how to draw a sphere in perspective.

How to draw a sphere with Light and shadow

The first thing to know about how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is that there isn’t a lot of drawing involved, per se.

I consider drawing to be the use of line marks and segments, shapes, forms, etc., which is a bit different than adding value/tones through shading. I think of light and shadow more like painting and coloring, which is why I’m not terribly fond of covering them in how to draw articles. I’m always concerned that it will cause confusion, but it is all connected so we gotta get into it at least a little.

Please try to bear in mind, for how to draw a sphere and anything else you draw, that you always want a solid drawing with solid forms first. Light and shadow, tones and shade, and color and paint all come after you have solid forms.

Okay, I promise I’m done ranting about it. For now 😜.

Know your light source

When you’re comfortable with how to draw a sphere, the next step is to add a light source to create light, shade, shadows, and the other values and tones.

First things first, you must know a few things about your light source.

Without diving into the Fundamentals of Light, the four things you must know (or invent and decide on) about your light source are its angle in relation to your object, its height, its color/temperature, and its intensity.

To help you practice, I recommend keeping it simple so there are fewer variables to juggle. I suggest sticking to black and white for now and using a simple light of average intensity. That leaves the height and angle of your light source to play and experiment with.

Here are a few references to help with visualizing your light source.

Form shadow and cast shadows

When lit, all forms will have at least three shadows: a form shadow, a cast shadow, and an occlusion shadow. Of course, in reality, the tones/values are much more involved than that.

Here are a few diagrams to illustrate most, if not all, of the areas and terminology involved in how to draw a sphere with light and shadow.

Lighting your sphere drawing step-by-step (digital)

Now that we’ve very roughly covered a few lighting basics, let’s dive into some demonstration. From experience, I believe the fundamentals of light are more easily practiced with digital tools–they’re much more forgiving. So, this example has been created in Photoshop.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 01-plain circle

Step One

Start with a medium-size flat circle. It helps to use one with some tone rather than a white circle. Here I’ve used a mid-tone gray circle.

In the case of how to draw a sphere with light and shadow, we need to start with a toned flat circle and build the depth with light and shade. Normally, I would not start lighting without a form.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 02-add light source and light guide

Step Two

We have a shape to add depth to, now it’s time to decide on the light source.

I chose to emulate the sun here, keeping the source up high, at about a 45-degree angle to the object, far away, and intense.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 03-add center light

Step Three

With the light source set, let’s make the first rough light pass on the object.

The focus here is on determining where your sphere’s terminus/terminator will be by judging where the plane change happens–where the sphere would begin to turn away from the light.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 04-add form shadow-terminus-core shadow

Step Four

Now it’s time to get into the shade and shading part.

Light helps us see forms, while shade and shadow give us form definition.

In this step, select a dark grey (about 80-85%, or a 2b pencil to 4b pencil if you’re working traditionally) and begin blocking in the form shadow.

The form shadow will begin at the terminus/terminator and cover all parts of the form facing away from the light.

This is also a good time to start blending in your halftone/mid-tone. The halftone/mid-tone area is where the form has started to turn away from the light but hasn’t turned enough to be in shadow. So, this area is roughly half the value of both the center light and form shadow combined.

It helps to remember these are all first passes. It will be necessary to go back over each area to darken, lighten, blend, and adjust as needed.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 05-add cast shadow-occlusion shadow

Step Five

With your form shadow roughed in, it’s time to add your cast shadow.

The shape and angle of your cast shadow are determined by the shape of your form and the angle of your light source.

It’s okay you’re a little off at first. I’m pretty sure my example here is slightly off, but it works.

A written explanation gets confusing, so I’ll include a diagram for placing cast shadows after this step-by-step tutorial.

Learning how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is a really good exercise for learning about the other important shadows, like the core and occlusion shadows.

You’ll see in the diagrams from steps four and five that I’ve labeled the core shadow. The terminus/terminator is where the light no longer reaches and the form shadow begins. Right next to that is the core shadow, the darkest part of the form shadow.

Occlusion shadow areas are places where the light cannot reach at all–they are occluded, obstructed. Occlusion shadows can be present on or inside of forms as well as part of cast shadows. Wherever the light does not reach, you should have occlusion level darkness of tone/value.

Basic Light and Shadow Demo 06-add highlight-reflected light

Step 6

The last step in how to draw a sphere with light and shadow is to add the reflected or “bounce” light.

Reflected light happens when light from the source bounces off other surfaces and is reflected back onto the object–in this case on its form shadow area.

How to determine cast shadow placement

Next, I’ve included a few images to demonstrate how to locate and place the cast shadow for a sphere. Here we’re looking for where the light rays meet the outer contours of the sphere and intersect the ground plane.

How to draw a sphere with light and shadow using pencils (traditional)

Not everyone is interested in working digitally, so I thought it would be helpful to demonstrate how to draw a sphere with light and shadow traditionally as well.

If you’d like to follow along with this demonstration, you’ll need a few pencils. I recommend a blend of the soft and hard leads: 4h, 2h, and h pencils; as well as an hb pencil and a 2b pencil. 4b and 6b pencils will help in the shadow areas. I like to go all the way up to 8b because I love velvety shadows, but usually, 6b is dark enough. I have articles about graphite pencils and drawing tools if you need more information in those areas.

As a rule, I don’t use a blending stump, cotton swab, or cotton ball for this kind of exercise. They smudge more than they blend, so I avoid them.

How to draw a sphere from Imagination!

Here is where those lovely references from the beginning of this article come in handy! While important, sphere drawing on its own isn’t the most exciting exercise. With some imagination and reference, you can create some fun and awesome things from spheres.

How to draw a Sphere, signing off!

Well, this one was quite a few mouthfuls, wasn’t it?

Thank you so much for reading how to draw a sphere and spending some time with me here. I appreciate you hanging in there and I hope you found this helpful and valuable to your artist journey.

I’m always trying to improve and come up with more useful articles to write, so if you have any feedback or questions for me, please reach out to me in the comments below.

Take care, stay safe, and happy drawing!


More how-to-draw articles on CecelyV.com:

How to draw a circle

How to draw a cube

How to draw a mushroom

How to draw a banana

How to draw a pumpkin