Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Back to Basics and the Zen of Traditional Pencil Sharpening (In Three Stages)

a well-used pencil in need of a thorough sharpening

There is something remarkably zen-like about the process of sharpening a pencil by hand with a traditional pen knife.

Phase 1 - the wood sheath has been tapered and lead is exposed 

When I'm feeling particularly frazzled by all the details and distractions of the day, sitting down and investing a bit of time in creating a truly fine point on each of my pencils before I actually get underway with a drawing session allows me to contemplate, to focus, to lower my heart rate and my respiration; it's sublime!

Phase 2 - lead has been tapered

Phase 3 - tip finished and ready to draw

 for quick reference while working I place my sharp pencils point up in the tin, 
and my dull pencils point down

If you've never sharpened your own pencils by hand before, I offer this little demonstration for your consideration. Who knows, you might just find the it as rewarding as I do (and, in the process, discover what a truly sharp pencil can do.)


two examples of the penknives frequently packed in my kit 

PS. If (like me) you travel everywhere with your sketch kit just remember: you can pack your pencils, pens, aper and erasers in your carry-on. But wait till you reach your destination to begin your adventure and ALWAYS pack your pocket knife in your checked luggage.


  1. Thanks Earnest. I knew the first part but never remember how to get the point

  2. Hi Cheri,

    You're so welcome. (I'm glad you found it useful.) By the way, two added perks of really sharp pencils: added incentive to vary pressure on you pencils (to protect those fine tips) will give you a wider range of line quality/intensity in your drawings; and a desire to protect those points you've worked so hard to create gives you a great excuse to get a pencil box (either a modern pencil tin that will hold up to working on location, or maybe even an antique wooden pencil box that you happen across in an antique shop.)

    Have fun! :-D

  3. Cool! Who knew? Zen in pencil sharpening! I started the video thinking it would be good to know but I'd probably never do it. Then I watched and thought, I've gotta try this! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Betsy. Hand-sharpening pencils probably isn't for everyone. (Then again, what is?) But, for those of us who sometimes enjoy an "unplugged" lifestyle, it can be a whole lotta fun to do things -- from time to time -- that don't include batteries. :-D

  4. I enjoyed your video! I have never tried to do mine with a knife (I am accident prone) but love the idea of it. Have many sharpeners that I HATE, and only have found the bullet ones (fit in my hand) and are sharp that work well. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!