Sharpening Your Pencils Correctly

Having correctly sharpened pencils – whether they are graphite, charcoal, or Conté – is a vital part of your technique.

The length and angle of the pencil point affects how you hold the pencil, how you treat the instrument, and of course, the quality of the line or tone that you produce. New pencils typically have a very short and moderately pointed tip. There are two types of pencil tips that you need:

  • Short and blunt
  • Long and sharp

Use sandpaper to refine the graphite rod and tip. Support this fragile length of graphite with your index finger when sanding it, all the while rotating the pencil, so that you taper it uniformly.

Step 1 Remove the Wood

Your pencil should have approximately one inch of lead and one inch of wood exposed, and the full two inches should be tapered to a fine point.

To sharpen your pencil, start by measuring up two inches on the barrel of the pencil from the tip. Hold the craft knife, X-acto knife or Stanley blade with one hand, and with the thumb of the ‘pencil hand,’ push the blade to make the cutting.

Step 2 Refining the Tip

Carefully continue to taper and refine the tip or lead of the lead. Make sure to push slowly and carefully, and lighten your touch as the lead becomes more refined and more exposed.

Step 3 Switch to Sandpaper Block

For the final shaping of the pencil tip, use a sandpaper block. These can be bought in any art store, or you can even make one yourself at home. Simply take a small piece of foam board (or any suitable material) and glue a piece of sandpaper to it.

Step 4 Support the Tip While Sanding

A good idea is to support the tip of the pencil with your index finger while performing this final delicate stage. When you’ve finished, use a tissue or a sponge to clean off any residue that remains on the tip, the wood, or the barrel of the pencil.

You can see how this long and sharp point dovetails with the overhand grip that travels down the barrel of the pencil. Your pencil is no longer a writing instrument but is now a fine art tool – one that is handled delicately and with precision.

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