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How to Draw: Pencil Sharpening

"Drawing is hard enough. Let's get our tools as ready as possible." - Justin BUA

Here's a tip for anyone drawing with pencils: make sure you have a good sharpener. Not only that, make sure you have a good pencil and know how to properly sharpen it for the kind of art you're drawing. Learning how sharp to make your pencil is crucial if you're new to drawing. 

When drawing, your pencil is your weapon to convey your art. Just like you wouldn't want to go to battle with a dull sword, you don't want to go drawing with a dull pencil. You want to get your weapon in the best of shape before you the battle. It's the same for learning how to draw - you want to go in as prepared as possible.

electronic sharpenerDull pencils are no good because you can’t draw fine lines with them. The easiest way to sharpen a pencil is with an electric pencil sharpener. They come out really nicely edged and sharpened which enables you to draw sharp lines and a decent wedge shape. You'll get a very fine line using an electrically sharpened pencil. 

manual pencil sharpenerAnother thing you can use is a small, portable, manual sharpener. It has two holes: one for a small pencil and the other for a larger one. It gives the same effect as the electric pencil sharpener and actually has some advantages because it's more easily traveled and it does not create interruptions using it in a class or studio.

The final method which is used especially to sharpen charcoal pencils is with an  X-Acto knife. The charcoal is so soft that it gets damaged by electric sharpeners and eventually, the charcoal gets stuck in the sharpener and will ruins the sharpener too.

xacto knife for drawing

Here’s how you sharpen a pencil with a knife:


  • Grab the knife in your dominant hand and hold it between your thumb and index finger.
  • Grab the pencil with the other.
  • With the edge of the knife facing the charcoal tip of the pencil, place your non-dominant hand’s thumb on the non-sharp edge.
  • Push the knife out with your thumb while pressing down with the thumb holding the knife (BUA suggests putting a garbage can between the legs in front of you).

The lower/harder you press, the more charcoal that is exposed. Adjust so that the right amount of graphite is exposed. Not too much but not so little that it’s still dull.

Warning: Drop it and the charcoal will break. Don’t drop it.

Once you have exposed the right enough of charcoal, take the knife to the charcoal area of the pencil and sharpen it to your desired level. Carve it until it’s like a dagger.

Once you’re done, take a sand pad and rub/roll the charcoal back and forth on the sand surface so that the charcoal is polished. If it is well-polished, there should no indentations in the line when you try to draw a straight line.

Keep the powdered charcoal from the sand pad to block in shading for later.

Keep in mind, there are whole classes in art schools devoted just to how to sharpen pencils. Don’t be frustrated if you keep breaking the charcoal or have any difficulty with the knife. Just give it some time while practicing BUA's tips and you'll be fine!

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