Michele Webber

In the Studio with Michele Webber

Best Pencils for Sketching (Under Watercolours)

US Shoppers recommended pencil set: 

Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Sets Art 8B - 2H set of 12

UK Shoppers recommended pencil set: 

Faber-Castell 9000 Art Set 12 x Pencils

In this article I am going to answer a question I am asked all the time as an artist: Which pencil do I use for my under-drawing before watercolour painting?  (you can watch the video here too!)

If there were a simple answer this would be a very short article, but there isn’t. So I am going to explain firstly what the numbers mean and then tell you about how different grades of pencil affect your finished watercolour. This will enable you to make the right choice for your needs. 

H = Hard

F = Fine

B = Black 

The harder the pencil the finer and lighter the line; H4 is harder than H2 Fine is a bit of an arbitary grade and indicates the pencil can be sharpened to a fine point – it sits around the H or HB  The softer the pencil the darker it is; 8b is softer than 4b. 

So you have HB in the middle – a standard writing pencil. H pencils going one way getting harder and lighter – these pencils are really only for very fine mapping and technical drawing. In the other direction you get the B pencils, getting blacker and softer as the numbers get higher. 

What is the advantage of using a hard pencil? 

• A hard pencil will keep your paper cleaner

• A hard pencil smudges less and shows less

Disadvantages of a hard pencil 

• More difficult to rub out

• May dent your paper meaning paint pigment pools in the impression left by your mistakes.

What is the advantage of using a soft pencil?

 • A soft pencil is darker and easier to see

• A soft pencil rubs out easier

Disadvantages of a soft pencil

 • Can make your paper very greasy and smudgy

• Scruffier, broader less fine strokes

What about watercolour pencils for underdrawings?

Some people recommend this, saying that the pencil will ‘disappear’ when the paint is added. But the truth is that watercolour pencil never completely disperses, and you won’t get fine edges this way as the pencil will cause the edge of the paint to bleed a little. If it suits your painting style it may work for you – try it out.

So to recap – hard or soft pencil?

Choose a harder pencil for very fine work or botanical paintings, but be careful not to press too hard.

Choose a soft pencil for standard watercolour work, but make the minimum amount of lines and keep your paper clean, being careful not to smudge or lean on your work.




Find me on YouTube...
Saa colour mixing leaflet & Paint Set

Don't forget to join my facebook group! (Click the MeerKats)

Facebook Group Michele Webber

Shop watercolour mixing posters

Polyspiral website offer