We all grew up using the standard #2 pencil in school, so it may seem silly to write a blog post about how to sharpen a pencil. However, as an artist you’re probably looking to make different marks than you would with a regular pencil, so you’ll need a different method of sharpening to achieve those marks.
This pencil has definitely seen better days. Let’s give it a good sharp point.
Over a trash can, I carefully start to whittle down the wood about two inches back from the tip with an X-Acto knife.
Then, using the knife, I very, very carefully strip away the wood from the graphite exposing about an inch and a half of graphite. This takes practice—I have broken many, many tips in this step.
Next, I grab a sanding block or sandpaper and gently run my pencil along the grit to create a long, sharp point. I’m sanding both the graphite and the wood together, while turning it constantly to ensure it’s even all around.
You’ll notice how much of the tip is now gone from that initial inch and a half I had exposed. We now have a beautifully sharp pencil.
You can see the difference in strokes from a sharp pencil and a dull one. With a dull pencil you’re likely to get heavy, thick strokes, but with a sharp one you will be able to get more delicate, thin, light, and confident strokes, which will make for stronger, more detailed, and dynamic drawings.
Thanks for explaining why this method may be preferred to a sharpener.
Why not just sharpen it with a sharpener? The tip looks the same and you wouldn’t have wasted as much pencil.
With a dull pencil, you’re likely to get heavy, thick strokes, but with a sharp one you will be able to get more delicate, thin, light, and confident strokes, which will make for stronger, more detailed, and dynamic drawings. Thanks!
You didn’t answer the question
Why not use a sharpener?
Robin, There are different types of sharpeners. Some (most) produce a short, sharp tip. Good for writing and drawing some details, but not too great if you want to shade a large area.
A long sharp tip provides not only the drawing and writing tip, but also the side of the leaded area can be used to shade and provide textures not possible with that short sharp tip. The sharpeners that make the long points tend to wear down pretty quickly and then produce only the short, sharp point, so you’d need to spend money to buy a new sharpener, or new blades if you can find them.
The exacto knife method is an option that might be cheaper in the long run than constantly buying new long-point sharpeners. You need not waste so much graphite if you can shape half an inch of graphite to your liking; that’s enough for my purposes.