Life would be so easy if I just knew which pencil to draw with. But on the other hand I do rather enjoy browsing the shelves of stationery shops, taking a punt on a pen or pencil that I haven't used before, wondering if it will be 'the one'. I've amassed quite a few drawing implements by now - and it's made packing my bag harder. So here's an attempt to make sense of my pen pots and put them into some sort of order.
The pencils fall into three categories…
Graphite - Your standard pencil. Glide well, easy to erase but quite shiny on the paper (which doesn't always scan well).
Wax - Like colouring pencils. Smooth to draw with, they're quite smudge-resistant (but harder to erase)
Charcoal - Much drier, occasionally even scratchy but making rich, sooty blacks, without any sheen.
CONTÉ 601- always a shade darker than STAEDTLER (a 2B is more like a 3B). I have an old hexagonal 3B that was quite the best pencil I've ever used. Smooth as anything and easy to hold and sharpen. It seems to have been replaced with round pencils which are drier and don't sharpen so well. The FABER CASTELLs and STAEDTLERs are better.
FABER CASTELL 9000 - always shade lighter than STAEDTLER (a 2B is more like a B). Nice to use, sharpen well - and look very posh with their Harrod's colour scheme.
STAEDTLER Tradition and Mars - There's very little between them - but I probably favour the Tradition slightly.
DERWENT (not pictured) - perhaps I got a bad batch but I kept getting those hideous scratchy impurities in them and haven't touched them since.
Verdict: Who'd have thought it. The cheap and cheerful STAEDTLER Tradition, available in every corner shop is as good a pencil as you're likely to find anywhere. The FABER CASTELLs are nice too but I'd give the round CONTÉ's a miss (which is a shame because the old type would have been the winner).
WAX - (FROM LIGHT TO DARK)
PRISMACOLOR Col-erase - the black version of the famous blue pencil used by animators the world over. It was a bit harder than I was expecting. Still, nice and waxy and good for making light marks.
BEROL Verithin - similar to use but a little darker than the Col-erase.
STAEDTLER Ergosoft - a useful shade, giving a good range. Triangular and comfortable to hold. It has a rubbery finish.
LYRA Super Ferby - nice wood finish but perhaps a bit too large to be really comfortable. Very slight brown tint.
STABILO Trio - Chunky but comfortable. Nice to use, soft - but again a very slight brownish tint.
PRISMACOLOR 935 - Lovely. Smooth, great range of shades. Brittle - I have to sharpen mine with a knife.
LYRA Color-Giant 9305 - A chunky wooden pencil as soft and good to use as the Prismacolor - and better to sharpen too! If only I could find more.
Verdict: PRISMACOLOR 935 and LYRA Color Giant are both fantastic - and both the hardest to get hold of here in the UK
CONTÉ 1710 2B - Beautiful to use - quite waxy for a charcoal type pencil. Very brittle - need to use a knife to sharpen.
WOLFF'S CARBON 2B - much drier than the Conté - no where near as nice to use.
STAEDTLER Mars 7B & 8B - these fall between the graphite and charcoal pencils. They hardly have a sheen but they're not as dark as the Conté. They sharpen well and are smooth to draw with - although slightly drier than typical graphite pencils.
Verdict: I really haven't made much use of the charcoal pencils so far as the dryness put me off. However the CONTÉ is rather special so I'm going to sketch something with it next time out.
To sum up, I like my pencils to be smooth. My favourite combination for loose sketching at A4 and larger is probably the Prismacolor 935 on Bristol paper. Smooth as anything, you can get a whole range of shades with very little smudging. I'd be equally happy with the LYRA Color-Giants. For smaller, tighter drawing I resort to a graphite pencil - and it'll be the trusty Staedtler Traditions from now on. (Unless I can find a cache of those hexagonal Contés somewhere).
Let me know your experiences and thoughts!