When is sharp sharp enough?

August 2021

When I teach graphite drawing I emphasize the importance of a sharp point on the pencil.

When I’m working in graphite, my pencil sharpener is always close at hand. But not only that, I also have a sheet of fine sandpaper upon which to sharpen the point rather than using the pencil-eating sharpener every time.

I recommend a sharpener like the one in the illustration below. It not only sharpens traditional wooden pencils but is able to accommodate mechanical pencil graphite as well through a small opening on the side.

These simple measures ensure a sharp enough point all the time for the fine detail we need to produce in botanical drawings. But you will find that different artists have different preferences for ensuring sharp pencil points. For instance, I’ve seen one artist advocate shaving away the wood and exposing at least a half inch of graphite. This too is fine, even if unnecessary and a bit tricky using a sharp blade. After all, it’s more about the sharp point and less about how you achieve it.

From left to right: sandpaper block from Faber-Castell; wooden pencil sharpened in the regular way; sharpened mechanical pencil; pencil sharpener; wooden pencil with half inch of graphite exposed; Exacto knife for shaving the wood off the pencil.

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