How to Hold a Pencil

Jul 10, 2023

I am awful with chopsticks.

About every year or so, I'll see a beautiful and ornate pair of chopsticks in a shop somewhere and decide that today is the day I'm finally going to learn how to use chopsticks properly. Forks are simply boring compared to these carefully crafted masterpieces of bamboo. Thus goes my money, forked over (no pun intended) for a new pair of chopsticks lovingly taken home.

Every time, with a healthy level of amnesia towards the last fourteen thousand times, I seem to think I'm just going to arrive home with a magically endowed skillset of chopstick-using genius. And every time…

Well, on the bright side, I could probably open a mint condition chopstick museum someday.

This pattern of delusional behavior wasn't exclusive to my odd chopstick collecting; it also bled into the occasional dabbling I would do in art. As an aspiring artist, I often felt like I wanted to draw something. I would pull out my pencil and a fresh sheet of paper, convinced that today my drawing was going to be a masterpiece.

And then it wasn't. Not even close. Like… disastrously bad.

My husband would even join in on the drawing festivities at times. His were a whole other set of issues. He would vice grip his pencil so tight, that everything he drew was incredibly dark. If he made it past the hand cramps, his drawing would be filled with erased lines that didn't really erase due to the heaviness of his pencil strokes. It was a mess.

Never in my years of failed drawing attempts (or my husband's) did it ever occur to me that the primary problem was something as simple as how to hold a pencil.

Yeah… you're probably doing it wrong. But don't worry — you got this.

Before we go any further, this needs to be established: The following information is about the proper form for holding a pencil when drawing. Don't go getting your knickers in a twist thinking we're advising you about how to improve your penmanship or letter formation. We'll leave that to the calligraphers and Language Arts teachers. (Look, Mr. Gecy, I've made it! I'm a writer!)

Step 1. Get off the couch

I'm not kidding. Your couch, your desk, whatever it is you're sitting on: get off of it. You'll want to be standing for this. If you are genuinely unable to stand, try sitting straight up on a backless chair. You want to be as upright as possible so your arm can move easily and freely.

Yes, I said arm. Drawing is more than just in your hand and wrist… it's actually in your arm and shoulder. So get that shoulder moving! Stand up and make sure you have plenty of room to move your arm and shoulder about. You'll also want your paper on an easel or upright surface, rather than flat on a table or desk.

Step 2. Get a grip

How you hold your pencil matters. As noted above, we aren't here to draft your kid's sick note for school. The way you hold your pencil for writing is an entirely different process. For drawing, you'll want to place your marking tool in between your thumb and middle finger for gripping. Your hand should be faced with the knuckles away from you, resting on your paper as a guide. If your knuckles are covered in graphite or charcoal by the time you're done drawing, you're doing it right!

Step 3. Soft hands

When I was a kid, a popular sports movie at the time was The Mighty Ducks. A ragtag team of misfit kid hockey players go from underdogs to champions — it's an inspiring and fun time. One memorable scene is when their has-been-turned-hero coach is teaching them how to have “soft hands” by having them carefully push an egg around the ice as a hockey puck.

Likewise, you need to have “soft hands” with your drawing tool. Whether you're using graphite, charcoal, or anything else, you'll want to have a light, soft touch when making those initial lines and ellipses. Dark marks are difficult to erase and hide, so you’ll want to build up light layers rather than laying down dark heavy lines right away. Between the correct grip on your pencil and the smooth, sweeping motions of your shoulder, your drawing skills will improve immensely. Once you’ve gotten most of the sketching out of the way and you are sure you like your drawing, then it’s time to start move to darker tones and rendering things more fully with shading and other techniques. Remember — no vice gripping your pencil. Move that shoulder!


You’ve done it! You’ve loosened up and drawn something amazing (or at least better than what you’ve done before). Practice your newfound skills often—daily!—and before you know it, you’ll be drawing masterpieces you never thought possible. And when you become a prolific and abundantly wealthy professional artist, I hope you’ll do me the honor of sharing a meal with me… complete with chopsticks. I swear I’m gonna learn how to use those.

Written by Julie Briggs

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