Most artists keep sketchbooks in which they experiment with ideas and collect drawings of their environment.  

If you want to be an artist, it's a good idea to start carrying a sketchbook around with you all the time. You can draw in your sketchbook, write in it and stick photographs and other things you find in it. Later on, you can return to your sketchbook when you're looking for ideas for making works of art.

Real progress in developing yourself as an interactive designer will depend on you frequently and habitually sketching out your ideas and their variations, reflecting on your ideas, and then developing those that seem promising. Use your sketchbook to help you develop this habit.

Sketchbooks are useful in many ways.

Sketches do not have to be pretty, beautiful, or even immediately understandable by others. 

The sketchbook will help you learn the following.

Carry your sketchbook around with you wherever you go. Look for things to record in your sketchbook. Remember that as an artist you have to look closely at things. Drawing requires courage! Once you've done your first sketchbook, others will be easier to do.



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marat.jpg (246269 bytes) David

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Roger De Muth


Pencils have cores made from powdered graphite (not lead) fired with clay, varying in hardness. The type of graphite used in pencils is relatively soft and malleable, a little like lead, and was mistakenly thought to be a form of lead when first discovered. The misnomer stuck, and many people think that pencils once had lead cores, though they never did. Graphite leaves a small, smooth particle on the paper that has a slight sheen.

  17th Century Carpenters Pencil

Writing instruments made from sticks cut from high quality natural graphite mined in England and wrapped in string or inserted in wooden tubes came into use around 1560.

By 1662, pencils were produced in Nuremberg, in what is now Germany, apparently by gluing sticks of graphite into cases assembled from two pieces of wood.

This carpenters pencil is the oldest known pencil in existence. It was found in the roof of a 17th-century German house, and is part of the Faber-Castell private collection.

Pencil Quality

Pencils can vary widely in quality. Irregularities in substandard or poorly processed graphite can lead to unpredictable tonal range, and even worse, scratches in the paper. Uncentered cores tend to break on sharpening. High quality artist's pencils deliver reliable, even tone at carefully graded hardnesses, and are less prone to breakage.


Wood-Cased Artist's Pencils

Artist's pencils range in hardness from around 9b (very soft) up to 9H (very hard) depending on the brand. Most artists starting out will find that a selection of 2H, HB, 2B, 4B and 6B is more than adequate to start with. If you are interested in doing extremely fine, realist tonal work, you might want to include all the pencils from 4H to 6B, or even buy a boxed set.

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The Conté Process

Early pencils were made using cut pieces of raw graphite dug from the earth. The hardness or softness of these pencils was dependent on the quality or purity of the graphite, and so was difficult - or impossible - to control. Different methods of refining and mixing of graphite were experimented with over the years, but it was not until about 1795 that a Frenchman, Nicolas-Jacques Conté, developed a process for making pencil leads that is still in use today.

The process, known as the Conté Process, involves the mixing of finely powdered graphite with finely ground clay particles and shaping and baking the mixture. By controlling the ratio of clay to graphite, varying degrees of hardness can be obtained, as well as fairly consistent and reproducible quality from batch to batch.

The early Conté pencils were made in at least four grades, and a numerical grading designation was used to distinguish them - 1 being the hardest, 4 being the softest. As the Conté process became known and used by other pencil makers, similar grading systems were used by them as well. However, these grading systems were arbitrary and inconsistent from one pencil maker to another.

In the early nineteenth century, English pencil makers began using a letter designation for varying hardnesses. Softer leads were designated with 'B' (for black), harder leads with 'H' (for hard). Different schemes were used to expand the range of grades, such as 'BB' and 'BBB' for successively softer leads, and 'HH' and 'HHH' for successively harder leads.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, a combination letter-number system had been established and was in use by nearly all European pencil makers, and was also used for some American-made pencils. This system is still in use today, and provides for a wide range of grades, usually consisting of the series:

9H 8H 7H 6H 5H 4H 3H 2H H F HB B 2B 3B 4B 5B 6B 7B 8B 9B



American European
#2  HB -- most common 
#2˝ F -- also seen as 2-4/8, 2.5, 2 5/10 due to patent issues 
#3  H 
#4 2H

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Clutch and Mechanical Pencils

Many artists swear by clutch pencils. Timber-cased pencils change their size, weight and balance as they are sharpened, which can be a problem for artists who draw a great deal. Clutch pencils have a constant weight and size and though initially expensive, the refills are competitive. 


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Progresso Pencils, Graphite Sticks and Graphite Crayons

Progresso Pencils are thick graphite pencils with no wood casing but a layer of lacquer to facilitate clean handling. Useful for broad, expressive work and shading over incised detail or where a visible paper tooth is desired. Graphite sticks or crayons are chunky, crayon-like pencils suitable for large, vigorous work. They can be messy to handle but are great for tactile, involved mark making in large-scale works and life drawing.

Powdered Graphite


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Powdered Graphite is a hands-on drawing medium, applied to the paper with Tortillions (blending stumps), fingers, Q-tips, or a rag. It can be used in drawing for soft, loose mark making, or to prepare a toned drawing surface.

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Notable pencil users

John Steinbeck's love of pencils and his search for the perfect pencil is legendary. He described Blackwing Pencils as "soft and fine" floating "over the paper just wonderfully". But at other days the Blackwings "cracked on him", their points breaking and "all hell is let loose".


When John Steinbeck decided on the title of his novel East of Eden he realized that he was running out of pencils:

"My pencils are all short now and I think I will celebrate by getting out 12 new pencils. Sometimes just the pure luxury of long beautiful pencils charges me with energy and invention. We shall see. It means I will have to have more pencils before long though. Would you send me another box. They are Mongol 480 #2 3/8 round."

Drawing Tablets

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Your sketchbook should be at least a  8 1/2 " x 11" or 9" x 12"  hardcover sketchbook with acid free paper. The size of your sketchbook is important: its pages should be large enough to accommodate idea development comfortably, while still being easy to carry with you at all times.