Thursday, November 2, 2023


Some of my well-used pencils

A pencil. 

My favorite tool to use for drawing or doing crosswords. I have them scattered around the house.

If you learned to write with a pencil, you probably used a yellow Dixon Ticonderoga 2 HB, a soft pencil right in the middle of the pencil hardness scale. This pencil was designed by Joseph Dixon in 1812, though earlier pencils can be found as far back as 1650. In the U.S. the pencil came into its own during the Civil War. Soldiers needed something easier to write with than a quill and ink. They carried knives and could sharpen pencils to a point.*

I am taking a series of classes called the Liberated Line, my favorite design element. Each Saturday focuses on a different element of design. We use shape, form, texture, value, space, and color combined with line. Last Saturday's instructor, Amity Parks, took me back to my beginning drawing practice. We used various hard to soft pencils that we each had on hand. I picked up my favorite Eagle Draughting pencil, which is about 6B, very soft, and no longer made though they can be found through online dealers starting at about $20 a pencil. 

We worked to create a palette to show what we could achieve by varying the pressure we put on a pencil. We worked through the Bs, reaching the Ticonderoga 2HB, and then began to experiment with 2H. The pencil weights go from 9B to 9H. Some brands, such as Blackwing, use their own scaling system. I discovered in my first drawing class what a difference each grade and brand of pencil made in my ability to manipulate the line I drew. I loved the soft quality of the Eagle Draughting pencil. I still do. The series of Hs gave me little room to create dark and light strokes. 

Checking the hardness of a line with each type of pencil
 & creating a value scale for each pencil

We used other pencils, chalk markers, and Conte pastel pencils

During the day, we experimented with various ways of creating a letter, including adding color. 



My favorite exercise was a letter hidden within a value drawing, filling the entire area with a variety of pencil marks. 


Halfway through a pencil drawing using both 2HB and 6B pencils

Finished capital H (can you see it?)

As Paul Klee once said, "A line is a dot that went for a walk."


Learn more about the history of the pencil:

Story of the Dixon Ticonderoga yellow pencil: 

Check out Pencil Talk:

Tour the Sanford Pencil Factory:


  1. Your dedication to always improving your craft is so inspiring, Martha!

    1. Thank you, Teresa, for your comments and for being a long-time reader of my blog. Writing this blog has inspired me to continue to work in both art and writing.


Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from readers. I answer each one.

I do not post Anonymous comments because of problems with spammers.