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Preschool children and the world’s most renowned artists alike celebrate the pencil as a drawing medium for both its precision and expressive capabilities. Pencils have the capacity to create intricate detail, delicate shading, and highly gestural markings. This makes them an ideal medium for landscape, figurative, and abstract drawings alike. Furthermore, graphite can be readily erased, allowing the artist to constantly adjust and recalibrate their compositions as they work.
Pencil drawings were developed in ancient Greece (circa 8th century B.C.) using a metal stylus to draw on papyrus. During the Renaissance era (14th to 17th century A.D.), artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Agnolo Bronzino used the stylus to create elaborate drawings. Artists of the Neoclassical and Romantic periods such as Jean-Auguste Ingres enjoyed the pencil’s capacity to draw precise and clearly legible lines, as did the British landscape painter John Constable.
In modern and contemporary art, pencil drawings have embodied an essential aspect of the artistic process of many canonized masters. Notable artists who have created pencil drawings include Pablo Picasso, Donald Judd, and Chuck Close.
Chuck Close creates photorealistic portraits using pencil. The medium’s potential to create wispy lines and highly nuanced shading imbues his subjects with a three dimensional quality
Donald Judd similarly favored the pencil for its exactitude, but used it to achieve a markedly different result. Many of his drawings consist of simple geometric shapes that extol the metallic constitution and simple beauty of graphite
John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Alice Meynell is an esteemed example of pencil drawing, showcasing the medium’s capacity for both expression and precision