Made for Shade

While shading a tangle in my sketchbook, I realized I grabbed the wrong pencil for the task. As I learned when I first took up drawing, not all pencils are created equal. How the wrong 2B pencil–oh, wait! It’s a 3B!–got into my standard supplies box, I may never know. It will soon end up in the trash or used for other tasks. 

Back to the topic, there is so much variation among companies in their interpretation of softness or hardness of graphite pencils. 

Three wood encased pencils and a generic insert stick for a clutch pencil are shown in this picture. The Castle pencil, which I thought was a lighter 2B, turned out to be 3B! I didn’t want to look for its 2B sibling (if I still have it), but left it with the other 2Bs for comparison. It is incredible how the different companies interpret 2B. There is probably as much variation in all hardnesses. Not only the color, but the blend ability itself is different from one brand to another. 

Why am I looking at 2B pencils? Because the recommended brand is not included in One Zentangle a Day. Only a 2B pencil is listed in the materials list. Since I immediately saw a difference in the tone of the shading (I had picked up the Lyra Art Design), it was time for another assessment of my supplies, as I had clearly decided, on a subconscious level,which pencils were not suitable for my tangling. 

The shading started out with a Lyra 2B pencil, but refreshed and finished with the 2B Derwent, which gives a better contrast.

Since I am a novice, I managed to accumulate a number of “test implements.” When I first started, I bought several sets of graphite pencils in a variety of price ranges and from as many manufacturers. I compared and contrasted pencil brands and tone right away. As I gained experience, favorites emerged. For 2B, my favorite is the Derwent Graphig. My very favorite sketching pencil is Prismacolor’s Ebony Stick. But the ebony is too dark and rough-textured, I think, for Zentangle shading; so the Derwent became my Zentangle choice, even though it is rougher in texture than the Lyra (which is readily available at the local art shop). Although I prefer Lyra’s smoothness, it is simply too light for me to work with. Eventually I will probably select a different brand that I like even better. For now, materials are purchased on a “let me try something new” or a full-replacement basis only. 

The variability in the characteristics of the graphite resembles the variability among cultures as well as individuals within a culture. No two “brands” or “generations” (think material manufacturing runs) are exactly the same. Each culture is unique; each person, though sharing cultural mores and customs, is as unique as his or her neighbor. Within cultures, there is always an individual whose behaviors or ideas appear more similar to someone from a starkly contrasting culture. We really can’t guess whether a person of Chinese heritage is more like us or less until we have gotten to know that person, and gotten to know what we mean by “like me.” Because we perceive others through our own learned biases, it is often long after we are friends that we can separate out the “Chinese” from the unique individual. Only then do we perceive the commonalities of thought, experience, and worldview from the more apparent characteristics of eye shape, skin color, and other culturally specific outward characteristics. Sometimes, a 3B is more like a 2B, as with the Castle pencil.

I prefer the smoothness of the Lyra Art Design graphite 2B pencil, but prefer the tone of the Derwent. Maybe the next time I make a purchase, the results of the newer manufacturing runs will reverse my preference. Maybe I will find a brand or brand line that I like better. Either way, there are characteristics that I can appreciate in the pencils I have at hand. And isn’t appreciation what friendship is all about?

Happy Tangling!



About DrEMiller

Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). Home: Sint Maarten. K-12 teacher for 13 years (Special Education for 10 years); Post-secondary educator since 2002; Education consulting since 1995. When teaching, held teaching certificates in K-12 special education, reading specialist; and secondary social studies. Doctorate: Educational Psychology Programmer/analyst for 10 years, including project management and training of corporate execs.
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