Project – Making Marks 

Exercise – Holding Pens and Pencils

The purpose of the exercise is to identify the most appropriate grips that can be formed to draw a comprehensive range of marks from different pencils, pens and sticks.

The pencil offered the most potential for a useful variety of grips which were identified  and trialled as the –
•    Writing/tripod grip
•    Extended tripod grip
•    Overhand grip
•    Overhand grip Mk 2 with forefinger support
•    Underhand grip
•    Thumb over the pencil grip
•    Vertical dangling grip
•    Obliquely dangling grip
•    Vertical writing/tripod grip

The form of the pencil grips are explained in my sketchbook log, copies below, together with the relevant marks illustrated. The grips identified are not rigid and there will be variances in the manner of the grip to suit the circumstances of the mark required.

Having spent virtually all of my life holding a pencil in the writing grip it was interesting to discover and experience the different ways a pencil can be held and the marks the lead will make at a particular angle and pressure.

The graphite stick has only a limited number of useful grips, probably only the three identified in the sketchbook log, as much will depend on the shape of the stick, i.e. round or square, and the shape of the wear on the stick.


Crayon grips are limited particularly as pressure has to be applied in order to make a significant mark and the size of the stick does not allow support from the crook of the hand. There is not much subtlety to be had in the use of crayons.

The dip pen probably only has one generally useful grip, the writing grip, as that is the grip the nib  was designed for. The pen can make light and heavy marks but these are governed by the characteristics of the nib and the unpredictability of the ink flow.

Although charcoal sticks are often small and misshapen there are about four useful grips which, dependent on the pressure and the amount of movement, give a good variety of marks.

The charcoal pencil, maybe just mine, did not offer any particular advantage to using anything other than the one grip – the writing grip. It appeared that all required marks could be made with such as different gradients and pressures did not appear to make a significantly different mark. Possibly a looser grip on larger paper might be useful.

The pastel sticks only offered me a couple of grips though working in a small area with restricted movement is not ideal for pastels. However experimenting with other grips made much the same marks as the modified writing grip. Like the charcoal stick the thumb and forefinger grip with the stick on its side creates a good shading mark.

The exercises on the A3 sheet taught me a lot and whilst the demonstration of the grips on paper only was contained in small working areas I found that experimenting on larger sheets revealed a variance in use for some of the grips.

On the larger A2 sheet most pencil grips worked well with the gestural strokes, some better than others but standing encouraged more fluid and expansive marks. Those grips that did not require support from the pad of the hand or wrist came to the fore particularly overhand.


A second overhand grip came to light with the pencil completely under the hand and supported at the end by the palm with the first finger extended over the tip. The dip pen also worked well with this grip.

The graphite crayons produced good marks with the grips stated on the sheet.

The charcoal sticks and the pastel sticks  have to be held with good support to the stick to avoid breakage but good gestural strokes were readily made.

The grips listed in the sketchbook log allow varying degrees of support and movement. Obviously if the pad of the hand or the wrist is resting on a surface and thereby supporting the fingers the movement of the pencil will be limited. When support is removed the wrist and the arm can be moved more freely creating more fluid marks but also causing a loss of accuracy.

The variety of grips combined with the angle of the drawing board and also whether drawing from a sitting or standing position will expand the type of marks that can be made by the grips.

A good lesson.


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