The pencil fundamentally works by pushing or pulling the lead end across the surface fibres of the paper, which act as graters, breaking up into small flakes. Pressure on the pencil pushes the flakes of lead into the fibres of the paper to leave a mark or trace.
Graphite, a form of carbon, also known as mineral black or plumbago, is the major constituent of the modern pencil. The softness or hardness of a pencil varies depending on the amount of clay mixed with the carbon. The softest varieties of pencil contain little or no clay. Artists and designers will use a range of pencils, varying their choice according to the effect they are trying to achieve.
As the graphite is worn away by use, it can be repeatedly exposed. This is done by the action of sharpening the pencil using a purpose-made sharpener or blade. Sharpening and exposing the graphite should be regarded as an important act, because how it is done changes the type of mark you make with it. There are many ways of sharpening. A particular point produces a particular result. The artist should experiment to discover what is possible and how to make each type of pencil meet his particular needs at any given time.
The pencil can be used for a variety of purposes and, as with any material you use, you must be fully aware of its potentials and its limitations - different pencils and types are designed for particular uses. In the ensuing chapter some of these practices will be revealed with particular relevance to the appropriate pencil or graphite material. The marks shown over the following few pages give some idea of the wide range of mark making possible. When you have looked at them, take each of the pencils in turn and see what marks you can make.
Apart from being very stimulating and a way of opening your mind to new possibilities with your drawing, you will find it increases your ‘feel’ for the pencil itself. As artists, what we feel through the materials we use has an affect on what we produce, and familiarity with those materials is vital to a good outcome.