When I worked at Michael’s, one of the best parts was walking by all of the art products. Especially the art books. The Art of Pencil Drawing was one I had my eye on in particular. After a few weeks, I couldn’t resist any longer and picked up a copy after my shift.
Not to be confused with Ernest W. Watson’s book of the same name (although I’m interested in his as well), The Art of Pencil Drawing by Gene Franks is a beautiful insight into pencil work. All of the art is created using graphite pencils of varying hardness.
One thing is clear from the start: Franks is passionate about his craft. It’s immediate from the quality of his pencil drawings, and is heartfelt in the introduction. The back cover states that the book includes work from the publisher’s previous art books by Franks. If you already have those, then not all of the art in this next installation will be new (for you).
Regardless, the beginning gives a useful description of the tools and techniques used in the tutorials. I found it quite educational. While I already knew about pencil hardness and hand positions, the actual applications of the graphite were like little revelations. It put a name to the techniques I’ve played with over the years, and how to improve them.
As a ‘how to draw’ book, it is definitely for intermediate to advanced artists. Of course, there are many things beginners could learn from it, but the tutorials are anything but basic. In the blurb, the publisher says there are “simple, step-by-step demonstrations”. While technically true, the lessons generally have three pictures: two in-progress and one finalized.
As such, there are huge jumps in between each step, which may be overwhelming for inexperienced artists.
I’d say I’m an intermediate artist, and it sometimes took a minute to figure out what to do next. I’ve followed two of the lessons; one an easier life drawing, and the other a more complicated nature scene.
In drawing the bottles below, the leaps between steps were not really an issue. I could see where shadow was building up, and the accompanying writing was a helpful guide. In total, it took me about an hour to finish my drawing [below on the right]. As with any drawing, I’m sure mine would have been more accurate if I’d spent more time.
One thing I did differently from the lesson was using an electric eraser. In doing the finishing highlights, my normal eraser just couldn’t get them bright enough. So I broke out my Derwent electric eraser to achieve the lightest value.
Next, I wanted to do something more complex. While the tutorials about buildings and figures were equally challenging, I was intrigued with the perspective in this river scene. I also would like to improve at drawing trees with pencil, so it seemed like a good fit.
Now this is where things got tricky. It quickly became apparent that while I could emulate a similar composition, it was near impossible to copy every line and rock from the book version. At times, it was challenging, though in a fun way, to figure out exactly how each texture was created.
In the end, the so-called ‘step by step’ part of the lesson was only slightly helpful past the initial composition. I also needed to use different pencils than the book recommended. The F and 2B pencils (I couldn’t find my B one) served alright for their purposes, but I had to go much softer than a 3B for most of the drawing.
In order to get a good contrast, I had to use the darkest pencil I have: a 9B. To be fair, Franks said to push hard with the 3B to get the darkness. But in doing so initially, I found it just pushed down the paper, creating a much sharper line than I wanted. And even then it still wasn’t dark enough. Franks suggests a maul stick to assist this, but I don’t have one. With the 9B, I felt comfortable to gradate between the pressures of its application for a range of shades, while creating smooth or sharp lines.
Over time, I looked at the book less and less, focusing more on my own artwork. I had given up on copying every single part, and started emulating the aspects instead. In total, this drawing took roughly six hours, off and on, to complete.
I found I loved not being baby-stepped through each lesson. It forced me to be more creative in replicating the techniques and finding my own way to adapt Franks’ guidance. That said, they were useful check points to see how my work-in-progress matched up with the tutorial.
Gene Franks’ The Art of Pencil Drawing shows the often understated potential of what graphite drawings can be. Through a technique called “action lines”, they seem to come alive on the page. In his explanations throughout the book, readers can begin to understand how to create similarly successful images.
If a lover of sketches and graphite art, this is a beautiful addition to any collection. If an artist looking to improve, there is much to learn here. However, the tutorials are aimed at intermediate to advanced artists, so you may wish to consider what difficulty level you are looking for before purchasing.
All in all, this is becoming one of my favorite drawing lesson books. After following just two tutorials, I can tell I’ve already increased not just my pencil skills, but also my art in general. I’ve always loved creating graphite drawings, and with this book I’m gaining confidence in my ability to create better and better ones.