How to hold a pencil

Has it occurred to you that there is more than one way to hold a pencil for drawing?

Many new artists simply hold the drawing pencil in the same way as the pen they use to write with and that can be one of the reasons they get disappointing results from their first efforts. There is a great difference between what we want to achieve in a drawing and how we need to write.

pencil tripod grip

The Basic Tripod grip

The basic tripod grip is what we have all learned in school since we first learned to write. Because writing has to be small, neat and precise so that it is legible, we need fine control at the tip of the pen. Therefore it is best to hold the pen close to the tip, no more than two or three centimetres away, between the thumb and first two fingers. All the movement of the tip is controlled by the movement of our fingers, while keeping the wrist almost still and resting the side of the hand and fingers on the paper.

If you use the same grip for drawing there can be all sorts of problems because the pencil tip is constricted and the flowing movements that are part of basic drawing technique can be lost. Hatched lines would be curves and freedom of expression would be missing. There is some value in this grip, but mainly for very fine details, and some types of shading with the pencil point, but generally, it is better to use another grip for drawing.

the pencil grip

The Pencil grip

The pencil grip, or extended tripod grip is similar to the previous one, but the pencil is held further away from the point, generally about half way along its length where it balances nicely. Here you can apply less pressure to the point, so the marks are easier to make and less precise. There is more freedom of movement since the control is coming from the arm and wrist and not the fingers.

This is a good grip for small sketches and drawings done in the horizontal plane, where there is sufficient control for precise work without it being too constricted. You can rest your little fingers on the paper for support, but this can lead to smudges and grease getting onto the working surface if you are not careful.

Many artists use this grip, because it feels very natural and can be used both for details and general sketching. However, it is more restricted than the Violin grip below, so it is worth using both of these according to the work you are doing.

the violin grip

The Overhand or Violin grip

This is the preferred grip for most artists. The pencil is supported by the flat of the thumb and all the fingers. It may seem unnatural at first if you are not used to it, but with practice it will become as natural as the other grips. It is most comfortable when drawing on an inclined surface or when the paper is supported vertically on an easel or something similar. Although it can be use when the paper is on a horizontal table, it is more awkward.

The advantage of this grip is that it removes most of the control of the pencil tip from the fingers and so the movement is controlled by the arm, elbow and shoulder, which give much greater freedom. This makes it easy to draw sweeping lines, and by using the side of the pencil lead to create effective shading and varying tonal values in your sketches.

Take time to practice using this grip and you will notice the greater artistic freedom creeping into your drawings.

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