Sharpening Pencils and Charcoal

Savannah Tate Cuff
Duration:   9  mins

As your drawing practice develops, you may find that everyday office pencil sharpeners just can’t give you the very sharp, fine point on pencils or charcoal that your drawings need for full expression. Instead, learn to sharpen points by hand using the traditional method of using a knife, such as a craft knife, as artist Savannah Tate Cuff does. Savannah demonstrates the correct hand position and twirling motion you’ll need to stabilize the pencil and sharpen safely with a blade to expose the graphite and remove the wood evenly. You’ll end up with a lead about one inch long with an extremely fine point. Practice makes perfect as you get used to the motion of twirling, shaving the wood, and exposing the graphite all at the same time.

Next, take it a step further with a sandpaper block, or follow Savannah’s tutorial to easily make your own sanding board. Start with a base such as an inexpensive wooden cutting board with a handle or a piece of plywood, and glue down three squares of sandpaper in 100, 150, and 200 grits. When your sanding board is ready, you’ll repeat the sharpening process for your pencils, going from the roughest to the finest grade.

Finally, try the method with a soft charcoal pencil for beautiful results. Now, with your drawing tools ready, you’re ready to draw! Savannah advises that you sharpen several pencils or charcoal pencils ahead of a drawing session, especially a session with a live model, so you won’t have to interrupt the creative flow once the session begins. Her final tip: Keep the charcoal dust in a glass jar and use it in your artworks.