Drawing techniques: 7 fundamentals of pencil drawing

If you're a graphite aficionado, you need these expert pencil drawing techniques.

Pencil drawing techniques: Dodo

Bobby Chiu's pencil rendition of the Dodo Bird from Alice in Wonderland - learn his pencil drawing techniques below!

No matter what kind of artist you are, chances are good that a pencil and a piece of paper figured prominently into your early art life, and learning good pencil drawing techniques is essential.

Throughout my career as a character designer and visual development artist, I have learned that having a strong respect and understanding of the process and fundamentals is essential to becoming a better artist, and what's more fundamental than a pencil?

Before you start you need to decide upon the best pencil for your drawing style. Next, follow my seven fundamental tips for next-level pencil drawing, and take a look at the video above demonstrating these techniques in action. If this inspires you to educate yourself further, why not head over to Schoolism.com to discover courses, workshops and more.

01. How I hold my pencil

Pencil drawing techniques: Pencil

Think of the pencil as charcoal in a wooden sheath

When I draw, I use not the tip but the side of the lead in order to maximize its utility. Holding my pencil like charcoal also keeps it sharper longer. When covering large areas, I shade with my pencil perpendicular to the line I'm drawing to get wide, soft lines; for details, I hold my pencil parallel to my lines to get sharp, narrow marks. The only time I use my point is when I'm working on intricate details.

02. Shading techniques

Pencil drawing techniques: Shading

Shading with unified lines versus with patches

I like to shade in two main ways: the first is with all of my lines going in the same direction, which makes my shading appear more cohesive. This pencil drawing technique also helps my details pop out from the lines I'm using for shading.

The second method I use is working in patches, which help define shape. Patches of lines go around the form, which help keep things in perspective. This technique is also great for backgrounds and can add texture.

03. Line weight

Pencil drawing techniques: Line weight

Line weight can help define solidity and volume

The next drawing technique concerns line weight. Having control over my line weight is a great way to separate objects from one another, and can emphasize my shadows. Thicker lines can fade and disappear into the shadows, which can help convey the 3D form.

I try to avoid outlining my drawings because this tends to make things look flat and overpowers the 3D effect. Breaks and spaces in my lines show form in the lights and shadows.

04. Sketch language

Pencil drawing techniques: Sketch language

Use light lines to explore and dark lines to commit

When I start drawing, I plan and explore using loose lines, and avoid committing too early with hard, dark lines. As I progress, my lines will change; checking and rechecking my work is vital. I darken my lines and add details at the end. I don't focus on one area for too long to prevent overdrawing.

When drawing something symmetrical, I focus on the spaces between the lines, and of course keep reevaluating.

05. Did I mention to check and recheck?

Pencil drawing techniques: Check

Check and recheck your drawing to stay on track

When I've checked my drawing, I check again. I have to nail down its underpinnings before I can add details. I really avoid guessing at the details; I want to make sure things are symmetrical and look right before putting down stronger and harder lines. I constantly ask myself, does this feel right? If anything seems off – even if I can't immediately put my finger on what it is – I trust my gut and troubleshoot my drawing before continuing.

06. Extra little tips and tricks

Pencil drawing techniques: Extra tips

Don't smudge the paper!

This is a valuable beginner's tip: I always put a piece of paper under my hand to keep from smudging my drawing.

I also like to view my drawing in a mirror, through a camera, or step away from it. This way, I can get different vantage points on my drawing and detect if anything is off. Fundamental things remain important even to advanced artists, but sometimes we still forget them. We must always respect the process and the fundamentals.

07. Is it ever finished?

Pencil drawing techniques: Finished

Is this finished? Maybe…

Like every other artist I know, even after I've signed my name, I will sometimes continue tinkering with my drawings. I can always find something to change if I look hard enough, so it can be difficult to tell when a piece is truly finished.

But remember that a drawing can be overdone! Eventually, I make a conscious decision to put my drawing away and start something new. That's when I consider my drawing done. Well, maybe…

I hope these pencil drawing techniques have helped – join in the conversation by adding your tips and tricks in the comments.


Bobby Chiu has been a professional artist for over twenty years, and is the founder and creative director at Imaginism Studios located in Toronto. He specializes in concept art and character design, and also teaches on Schoolism.com.