Drawing with the Broad Side of a Mechanical Pencil

Author Andrew Banks

Mechanical pencils have traditionally been used for writing and drafting, however they are also incredible tools for drawing and sketching with.  One of the great things about mechanical pencils is that with a little practice, users can achieve similar effects with mechanical pencils as they can with wood cased pencils.

One of the most well-known pencil drawing techniques, “pencil broadsides” was coined by architect and artist Ted Kautzky.  In his books Pencils Broadsides and Pencil Pictures, Kautzky gives artists a set of pencil drawing techniques that enables them to portray a “complete range of textures and values...through the use of broad strokes, made with a flat, wedge-shaped point.”  In this post, I will walk you through my application of Kautzky’s techniques in a pencil value study I created in preparation for a watercolor commission using the 2.0 version of the Modern Fuel Mechanical Pencil.  Read below for the step by step process I used in creating my drawing, how I used the .5, .7 and .9 Modern Fuel lead inserts at different stages of the drawing and how I used Kautzky’s broadside pencil techniques to depict a variety of natural and architectural textures and values.

The first step of my drawing was to establish the correct proportions and sizes of the building and to scale and compose it within its context of foliage and the yard on my page.  I drew this step with the .5mm, HB grade lead.  Starting on the left side of the page and working my way to the right, I lightly drew the vertical and horizontal lines of the garage and the main facade of the house.  Once I established the major forms of the house, I added smaller details such as windows, doors and steps, and then moved into even finer detail with trim, window mullions and garage door panels.  Finishing off this step, I loosely added in the silhouettes of the background trees and various plants and trees in the yard in the foreground.  With the drawing fully outlined, I was ready to start incorporating pencil broadside techniques to add a range of values and textures to the drawing.


Since pencil broadside drawing requires a wedge shaped lead point, here you can see me shaping .7mm lead into the wedge shape by repeatedly rubbing the lead back and forth on a separate, scratch piece of paper while holding the pencil at an approximately 45 degree angle to the surface.  After about 10 strokes of the lead on the paper, the .7mm lead has been shaped into a nice wedge.  As I draw with the wedged portion of the lead, I make sure to maintain the wedged shape by always keeping the broad side of the lead touching the paper.  The broad side of the lead has the largest surface area and is the portion of the lead that you will want to use.  For everyday writing purposes, we often tend to rotate the pencil in our hand to position the lead to always have an evenly round tip.  However, for pencil broadside drawing, we want to maintain the flat wedge shape of the lead.


Shown here are just a few of the types of marks, textures and range of values that can be created by drawing with this broad side, wedged shaped lead.  Everything you see on this page was drawn with a .9mm HB grade lead.

Similar to the outline of the drawing, I began adding pencil broadside strokes to the left side of the paper, beginning with the background trees.  Using a series of firm, diagonal strokes that varied in length, I began developing the texture and dark value of the tree canopy.  Leaving some areas white, I suggest the light from the sky that peaks through the trees as various areas of the roof.  The trunks of the trees are easily made with just a few vertical strokes of the pencil.  Varying the pressure of the pencil on the paper allowed me to create some variety in the darkness in the trunk, hinting at the irregular shape and organic ways that light can fall against natural forms.


The dark values of the trees and the directional strokes of the pencil immediately allows the house to stand out as the focus of the drawing.  Since the real color of this house is a light grey, for the purposes of this value study, it will remain the lightest object of the drawing.



I begin building up value and hinting at the different materials of the house by drawing the roof with a series of short strokes using the broad side of the lead.  Depending on the conditions of the sky at any given day, the light hitting the surface of the roof can be more uniform at times than others.  Here, I hint at the different levels of light hitting the roof surface with varying values within the pencil strokes.  Perhaps this is caused by some clouds blocking direct sunlight to parts of the roof.  In addition to indicating the roofing material with short pencil strokes, one of the final details I will add to the drawing include a gradated shading which adds a sense of depth to the image.


Next, I am able to use the broad side of the lead to fill in the window panes.  Each of the individual window panes takes about 3-4 vertical strokes to fill in.  Making sure to leave white space to indicate the mullions and window frames can take some practice, however, with the right shaped wedged lead tip it becomes easier.  For small areas like this, the .7mm lead continues to be just the right size to work with.  The wedge shape of the lead covers enough surface area without being overly large where it prevents accuracy.  You’ll also notice that I begin to hint at some shadow lines on the left sides of the window trim, on the garage door panels, and under soffits.  This begins to indicate light source and direction which will be important to portray in the final watercolor painting.  All of these are created with single vertical or horizontal strokes with the broad side of the lead.  

Some of the final remaining details of the drawing include the grass, the trees in the foreground, the garden plants, the sidewalk bricks, the lamp post, the entryway door and the siding.  All of these were created with the .9mm HB grade lead.  The grass was created by a series of short pencil strokes that are done in an upward flicking motion.  This allows the bottom portion of the stroke to be thicker than the tapered top, giving the impression of individual blades of grass.  The house’s siding was created simply with a series of horizontal lines.  Since the shadow lines under each piece of siding is very minimal, these lines were some of the lightest values of the drawing and so I had to hardly put any pressure down with my hand.  The weight of the bronze version of the Modern Fuel mechanical pencil itself on the paper was sufficient to leave a light line on the paper as I gently dragged the lead across the page.



Above is the final drawing.  Once all of the major textures and values of the drawing were added, I added some final touches that helped give the drawing some more depth and description of the direction of light.  Each of the two trees in the front yard received their own cast shadow on the grass to the left of each of the trees.  Since the light is coming from the right and since the garage is recessed behind the front façade of the main portion of the house, it also received its own shadow which is cast by the main portion of the house.  Lastly, a gradated shading was added over the roofing marks so that the top of the roof is lightest and the bottom is darkest.  This gives a sense of depth since the pitched roof recedes into the distance.

This value study will be used as a reference for a final watercolor painting, however the techniques demonstrated here can be used for all other drawing applications.  As you can see, the broadside pencil technique not only allows you to add a lot of graphite to the page at once but it also gives you the ability to create a wide range of values and textures.  The broadside technique works wonderfully with the Modern Fuel Mechanical pencil and the 2.0 version of the pencil gives you the added benefit of allowing you to use multiple lead sizes needed for various stages of a drawing.