Level up your pencil handling to achieve stunning, nuanced results with a simple technique for improving value consistency. Artist and instructor Mackenzie Swenson walks you through mastering the skill of creating an extremely flat, even tone in pencil without using a blending tool. Practicing this simple but often undeveloped ability instantly takes your drawings from amateur to professional, while also refining your sensitivity to value and texture variation in your work.
A common challenge Mackenzie sees her students contend with is having unintentional visual “noise” and texture in areas of their drawings that would benefit from unity and consistency. Usually this visual “noise” shows up as one of two things—harsh, chaotic pencil marks that leave a shiny or burnished look, or a timid application of graphite that leaves a light, fuzzy texture. Mackenzie shows you exactly how to use a technique that corrects both issues, as well as her secret weapon for learning to focus on one area at a time. She equates the need for areas of consistency in a drawing to moments of rest in music. Silence compliments periods of energy and intensity, and likewise, having visual areas with a unified, consistent value compliment areas of intentional texture and contrast. While this technique requires a little—or a lot!—of patience, with practice you’ll be able to get exactly the value you want in every part of your drawing!
For this exercise, Mackenzie will be drawing on Strathmore Series 400 paper and using Staedtler graphite pencils in grades B, HB, and H, a Tombow Mono eraser and a kneaded eraser. For additional instruction on how to best sharpen your pencils, see “Sharpening Pencils and Charcoal” with Savannah Tate-Cuff.
*A quick note on blending tools—a stump or a brush can be very useful, but it’s best to learn how to create the value or gradation you want without a blending tool; overly blended drawings can easily become “smudgy” looking and lose their sense of solidity.