Greetings friends! I’m back with the first of a few summer posts. Since I’ve been teaching Celtic Knotwork now as well as Zentangle, I’ve discovered how USEFUL mechanical pencils have become to me. I’d like to share how and why these are such awesome tools to have in your art supplies kit!
I sometimes REALLY struggle with my pencils. I break them constantly, and I never seem to have a decent pencil sharpener within reach and I lose them all the time. Does this happen to you too?
When I first started drawing with the Zentangle method 7 years ago (my gosh, has it been that long??), I had to work hard to lighten up over time when creating the very light “strings” and frame that help define the areas to draw in. I never seemed to have either the right pencil, or a sharp enough pencil. I’ve noticed our students often have a hard time with this too.
In my own Celtic artwork, for the longest time I would lay out my initial lines, bands and interlacings with just a plain pencil, but I always had a hard time keeping my pencil sharp enough for precise work. So when I was planning my live courses this winter I went off shopping looking for a better pencil option for my students. Mechanical pencils to the rescue!
- Mechanical pencils come in a variety of lead thicknesses*. I prefer working with .07, .05, and for ultra fine points, .03 and .02.
*You’ll need a different mechanical pencil for each size, as the leads need to fit into the proper sized pencil. I keep mine in different colors to help.
- They are EASILY refillable, and the refills come in cute little cases. Added 6/26: Apparently the cases make great storage for sewing needles…. hmm what else could they be used for?
- Refills come in many varieties of softness / hardness. For most of my knotwork, I use an HB. I may have to write another whole post just on pencil leads!
- You can get extra rugged refills from Pentel (see their hi-polymer leads below).
They are PERFECT for working out knotwork lines and interlacing, allowing me to adjust my pencil lines easily.
- Mechanical pencils are great for intricate and small scale shading, as well as cross-hatching, scrumbling lines when doing larger scale work. I find they give me more control in shading tangles, sketches and knotwork.
- They are perfect for folks who make their pencil marks too dark by training you to lighten your pressure on paper.
- Some mechanical pencils come with a special protective metal sheath when the lead is extended, so there is less breakage with fine leads – see the Orenz pencils below.
- They come in a wide variety of price points.
- Some of them come with white plastic erasers, and some of those are refillable too. Ok, yes, if you’re doing a Zentangle piece then you’ll want to try and ignore the eraser, remember, no mistakes! But if you’re drafting any kind of Celtic knotwork, my GOSH are they handy to have…right at the end of your pencil, and unlike those ugly pink erasers, they actually clean up really nicely!
Ok, maybe there are more than 10 reasons… LOL.
10a. Those little white nubby erasers can be used for adding highlights in Zentangle as well as general sketching! They can also be used to tangle against a pencil smudged background, rather like the Tombow Mono Zero erasers, but WITHOUT having to pick up another tool. And they do a fabulous job of helping to tweak knotwork lines and fix interlacing flubs, especially the tiny nubby erasers on the Orenz pencils.
10b. And of course, no sharpeners needed!
I like the Pentel Express Twist-Erase for when I’m doing larger knotwork or shading Zentangle pieces. By large, I mean a not terribly intricate knot where the bands are about 1/4″ to 1/2″ wide. I really like how LONG the erasers last, although they’re not as narrow as the Orenz pencils so if I do have tight spaces even in my larger pieces, I keep that one nearby as well.
I like how the multi pack I got of these came with refills. I use both the .05 and .07 pencils.
I first encountered this pencil at my local art store, Zephyr Designs in Brattleboro, VT. Not only did they carry a number of size pencils, but they carry the refills in various thicknesses an soft/hard-ness. That’s where I first learned about the protective metal sheath that extends out and protects the fine lead. Love love LOVE these!
I’d LOVE to hear about YOUR favorite mechanical pencils, as well as your questions.