Everyone uses pencils. And most people know that your average, everyday pencil is a 2B pencil. But how many people know what that actually means? '2B' refers to the hardness of the pencil lead, which is actually carbon these days. So how does pencil hardness affect your drawing? What are some of the ways that pencils of different hardness are used in drawing? Let's look at the details.
Defining pencil hardness
First off, a 2B pencil is very handy, but it can be a lot of fun to play around with other hardness of pencil. Standard hardnesses range from 4H to about 6B. The higher the number in the H's, the harder the pencil lead will be, and the higher the number in the B's, the softer the pencil will be. There are actually softer pencils than 6B, with 9B being about the softest, but not used as often as the rest. So what does this mean for your drawing? A hard pencil will generally give you a straighter, lighter line, while a softer pencil will give you a darker, usually thicker line.
Harder pencil uses in drawing (4H to H)
Many people don't like hard pencils at all. Personally, I like to define my sketches with a hard pencil first, since I can lay down a general line and go over it several times to get it in the right place, and erase all the 'wrong' lines. With these pencils, I feel I have a greater degree of control over the lines themselves. Harder pencils are often useful for defining an area so you can go back into it with a softer pencil later. They are also very handy for giving detail later in a drawing to pull out certain details. So why don't I use hard pencils exclusively? The short answer is because there is not enough color depth, and your drawing will turn out very light indeed. The long answer is in the next section.
Softer pencil uses in drawing (2B to 6B)
The softer pencils are where the magic starts to happen. Once you map out your sketch, it looks sort of flat and one dimensional. It lacks life and depth. With a soft pencil, you can start to add deep color, since the pencil lead really lays down a dark color. This is where you start to add shading and shadow. The darker the shadow, the softer the pencil. You can use the harder pencil lines as guides for where to add your darker lines and shading. Be sure to fade your shading to the shape of the object you are drawing to define it.
The use of more than one hardness of pencil can add a lot to your drawing. How does pencil hardness affect your drawing? It adds control, depth, shading, and shadow. Using all the different hardness of pencil adds a dimension to your work that will look like magic as you watch your drawing take shape through multiple layers.