Pencil Games-Paint Stage-First group

CallaLily-Musgraves Pencil under Watercolor
Watercolor over pencil made with Musgrave pencils in 2H,4H and 7H

Testing a number of pencils by creating drawings of calla lilies with different brands, gave me a good feel for the lightness/darkness factor of each brand as well as, amount of pressure needed with each.  While all were nice drawing pencils, some had different strengths pertaining to the watercolor over pencil botanical painting technique, I prefer and teach in my workshops.  I have narrowed down my choices.  The next step is to play with my favorites until I fall in love with one. Or maybe two.  I could even fall in love with three.  Time will tell!


For each painting, I used tube watercolor paint and kept it simple with only three colors, Permanent Rose, Lemon Yellow and Sap Green. Windsor & Newton paint was my choice for all three colors.  This is not to make an argument for or against Winsor & Newton, though it is my choice frequently, but along with other quality paints from other manufacturers. My goal was to keep the variables to a minimum so that the focus remained on the pencils.

The Musgrave pencils in their Unigraph series have a nice smooth flow and are the darkest of the H pencils I tested. The Unigraphs had the characteristic harder H graphite making the pencil marks no problem for the paint.  No discoloration occurred when the paint was applied. No bits of graphite came up to muddy the paint. The Musgraves pencils created a deeper drama in the shadows requiring less paint.  Artist’s taste would be the deciding factor on whether or not the deeper shadows are preferred.

CallaLily-Steadlter pencil under watercolor
9H, 6H, 4H Steadlter pencils under watercolor


Steadtler pencils were the lightest in tone, making more distinct marks that were less visible.  The shadows were softer, less dramatic creating a gentle flow with the variances in light and dark.  These pencils are very nice in an underpainting requiring the artist to apply a few more glazes of color to the areas of depth.  Virtually no pick up of graphite by the paint suggesting these pencils will create a very clean underpainting. My suggestion for artist preference would be the artist who loves the paint layering process with water color.




Prismacolor Turquoise series 9H, 7H,

The Prismacolor Turquoise Series pencils in 5H, 7H, and 9H were the happy medium between the deeper darker shadows created by the Musgrave Unigraph and the Steadlter H series with lighter more distinct marks on the paper. The artist who prefers a mix of the dramatic underpainting and the softer, lighter version will love the Prismacolor Turquoise series.  There was no noticeable pick up of the graphite by the paint.  Colors were clear and bright, not cloudy and muddy. The Turquoise series is a wonderful combination of the soft and the hard in H series pencils.  These are for generalizations of underpainting mark making.  Make the mark but don’t make it obvious.



This group provided dark, light and peanut butter and jelly.  Prismacolor is the peanut butter and jelly.   Its all a matter of preference.  Steadlter provide the light, Musgrave the dark.  Steadlter is all soft Italian bread while  Musgrave is a dark whole wheat bread.  Take your pick. Its all in the taste.  Its all in the drama.

What drama you want is your priority.  Own your choices. For me, I’m inclined toward the darker, more dramatic as the lighter ones require more effort to achieve the drama I crave.  Some days and some flowers may cry out for softness, low drama. Its great to know there are choices.  At least it seems so in my world.

Next up: more choices!




Pencil Games-The Next Level

Calla Lilies-Musgrave“I love the quality of pencil. It helps me to get to the core of a thing.” Andrew Wyeth


Successful drawings can be taken to a whole new level with the right pencil.  Pencil preference will differ from artist to artist but certain pencils are known for their particular mark making characteristics.  Using a pencil drawing for an under-painting as I do, can be made or not on the strength of the chosen pencil.  Lately, I have been carrying on my game of finding the best pencil for style.  Here I continue with the H’s as they are, in my opinion, the best choice for not over-powering the overall painting and for creating a great partnership with the watercolor painting stage.


calla lily-derwent pencilDerwent is a long and established name in pencil making.  No question that these are fine pencils in every way.  As Derwent says, “a good drawing starts with a good graphite pencil. “ Derwent’s H pencils allowed me to produce a nice smooth drawing with marks that flowed.


Calla Lilies-Tombow2The second test pencil in the H group was TomBow Graphite Drawing Pencils.   These exceptionally fine pencils are made in Tokyo, Japan and Suwanee, Georgia., with coporate offices in Tokyo. Tombow’s H pencils required very little pressure to produce a drawing with beautiful variations in shading. The red cedar barrel facilitates smooth even sharpening.  I can see Tombow pencils taking a permanent place in my pencil box causing me to very quickly forget all other pencils!Calla Lilies-Prismacolor-Turquoise


Prismacolor is the maker of my favorite Ebony and colored pencils.  It was not surprising to find the H graphite pencils in Prismacolor’s Turquoise series to be equally exceptional.  If Prismacolor became the only maker of H series drawing pencils, I cannot see any loss of drawing pleasure or result. These are very nice high-quality pencils.


Calla Lilies-Steadlter


Up until this point, I found the three brands tried as all similar in mark making ability with some differences in features lending more to personal preference. The next brand, Staedlter, causes a bit of a veer off into a definite direction.  These were the perfect pencil for making very fine lines.  The sharp point and hardness of graphite in Staedlter pencils made it a very nice choice for putting in fine veins in leaves and petals.  It was less beneficial for shading for the same reason it is so good for veins and fine lines, its hardness in texture.  No question on keeping Staedtler in the pencil box. It is now the “go-to” for fine lines, so difficult to depict in almost any medium, for me.


Calla Lilies-MusgraveUnbeknown to me was a fabulous little pencil company only a short 2 hour distance from my home. Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville, Tennessee, (capital of the Tennessee Walking Horse world), has been making pencils and pencil components since 1916.  Musgrave strives to truly American made pencils with naturally harvested American wood, shunning cheap imports.  Like many companies today, they have struggled to keep production in the USA while keeping costs reasonable.  The inspiring story was enough to make me a fan but I was delighted to find that Musgrave’s Unigraph drawing pencils were very nice tools with a wonderful texture on the paper.  The H series has slightly darker tonal value than others I tried, making for less needed hand pressure and deeper shading potential.  Even without the story, Musgrave’s Unigraph is here to stay in my pencil box. Please read the story, though, for a little uplift to your day!


In all, I couldn’t find any real negatives for any of these pencils.  I did find some unique positives in the Staedtler and Musgrave pencils.  My feeling is: try them all.  You’ll know which one is best for your style when you try it!