Learning Experiences: Graphite Density

Because of my lack of formal education in art, I owe much of my advancement in skill to instances where real artists have taken me aside and yelled at me for doing it wrong. This is a story of one of those instances…

Once upon a time, I was at a church retreat where I didn’t know anyone. Introvert that I am, my solution to the problem was to curl up on a couch and work on a sketch, trying to look cool and not interacting with anyone.

Probably it was this sketch.

“That’s a nice sketch. Are you studying art?” I heard a voice behind me. I turned around, and a guy (very good-looking guy, actually) was watching over my shoulder. I thanked him and replied that no, I wasn’t a student. This is just my hobby.

He introduced himself, explained that he’s a graphic designer, and said, “Well, it looks good. What kind of pencil are you using?”

I probably had a confused look on my face. “Um, a mechanical one?”

His brow furrowed a little. “No, I meant, what graphite density are you using?”

Now I was really lost. Graphite what? I wracked my brain to come up with an answer that made it sound like I sort of knew what he was talking about. If I played my cards right, I could come off like a legit amateur artist.

“Uhhh, it’s a number 2 pencil, I think?”

Now his expression was pained, like I had given him a slight headache. He said, “Have you ever heard of the HB scale?”

I think my blank stare was enough of an answer, because he grabbed my notebook and number 2 pencil, found a blank page, and diagrammed the graphite density scale.

Here it is.

Apparently, the density of the graphite affects how much bleeds into the page, and can result in thin or thick lines, how much it will smudge, and how dark it is. On the higher end of the H scale, you can have thin, fine lines, like for eyelashes. On the B scale, you have a thicker, darker line that will smudge all over the place, which is good for shading.

How could I have not known about this? I thanked the guy for showing me the scale, and promised to buy myself new pencils. His good deed accomplished, he walked away to meet up with his girlfriend (which is just so typical of my interaction with cute guys). Unlucky in love, but lucky in learning, I continued to sketch.

And that is the story of how I learned about graphite density. I went home and bought a few new pencils, and the contrast and shading of my sketches improved dramatically.

Nephews… the cute guys I have in my life.

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