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2B or not 2B

A freelancer came into the office the other day and, after getting set up at a desk, asked where he could find a pencil. I happily replied, “Well I’m not in high school, so I don’t know.” I couldn’t imagine sketching with a pencil. The smudging, the fading, the second-guessing and erasing. Nope, all wrong. I personally like PaperMate Comfortmates, but a Uniball Onyx is also fine.

Do you sketch with pen or pencil? What kind? Feel free to leave a one word answer or if you want to tell a story, that’s fine too.

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ARCHIVE ID 2078 FILED UNDER Hardware/Software
PUBLISHED ON Sep.16.2004 BY David Weinberger
Anthony’s comment is:

A freelancer came into the office the other day and, after getting set up at a desk, asked where he could find a pencil. I happily replied, "Well I’m not in high school, so I don’t know."

Dude, if you said that to me I would assume you're some kind of asshole. Just the way you worded the response. But maybe I'm not seeing the context correctly. I mean, maybe when he asked you for a pencil he was also making lewd gestures.

If you're going to sketch, in my opinion a pencil is the way to go. Eraseable, smooth, shade-able, sketchy-looking. Can't erase a rapidograph. I use the computer just as much as anybody else --I live and die by my powerbook-- but I always scratch my head when somebody says they're making sketches on the computer. The same reason many authors say they like writing first drafts by notepad or typewriter rather than by computer, the text on a computer screen can look too inflexible, to final too soon.

Remember also that many designers are coming from an illustration background and they might be more comfortable with their native tool.

On Sep.16.2004 at 09:26 AM
bryony’s comment is:

Personally it all depends on what the sketch is for. Usually I go for a ultra fine point black or red Sharpie. Second best would be a fine point Sharpie. After that I will go for pencil, charcoal, grease stick or http://www.artstuff.net/kohinoor_rapidograph_pens.htm " target="_blank">Rapidographs.

I have noticed that I use many more materials and alternative methods than the rest of my office which is a big joke around here. Give her anything, Bryony will work it out. Chuckle.

On Sep.16.2004 at 09:31 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

The computer makes for a great sketching device. It's fast and easy to move things around on screen, you get results fast. Sometimes I can work out 5-10 ideas over the course of an hour. But are they good ideas? I find that walking away from the computer, grabbing my 0.5 Dr. Grip Lead Pencil and a steno pad produces better results that are well crafted and conceived. I am liberated from the tools the computer provides, and will create ideas that are fresh in comparison.

No matter the tool, it's important to find an avenue that works well; the process and result matters more than the tool.

On Sep.16.2004 at 09:38 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

I sketch with whatever writing implement I can find buried within the many layers of 'paperwork sediment' on my desk.

At home, I'll often steal my son's magnadoodle:

On Sep.16.2004 at 09:42 AM
David Weinberger’s comment is:

Dude, if you said that to me I would assume you're some kind of asshole.

I'm actually a sweetheart. We already knew eachother and it was definitely funny.

On Sep.16.2004 at 09:54 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Media doesn't matter as much as the final result.

While viewing his Guggenheim retrospective, I learned that Frank Gehry sketches with crumpled up pieces of paper held in place with scotch tape.

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:14 AM
ian’s comment is:

i carry a sketchbook and sunglasses case with me as a mini pencil box. so i have with me at all times 2 staedtler 0.5 mechanical pencils, a tuff-stuff mechanical eraser, a red and black twin tip sharpie, and a cheap black ball point. i almost always start with a pencil, then add ink to finish it out. if i'm getting really serious i'll bust out the unibal white gell pen for highlights. also the key to a good pencil is a better eraser.

i am also one of those people who does not understand sketching on a computer. i work with people who are very good at it and to me it's a talent. i can't even open indesign without at least doing a quick pencil.

i had a friend that converted me to sketching with pens for a time. "pencils are weak and timid and your not committed to your drawings." i went through a lot more sketchbooks that way...

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:16 AM
Jon’s comment is:

I'll sketch with whatever is at hand. I'm not picky; I just want to give the thoughts some sort of visual form.

I tend to do a lot of super-super-rough sketching in front of people, to expose my thinking, or to have a record of a discussion. For this I try, wherever possible to use pencil, not because of the characteristics of pencil as rendering medium but for the way non-designers THINK about pencil. They see it as temporary, informal, preliminary. Seeing the discussion in visual form in pencil, they are more likely to feel that the sketch is not threatening, useful but non-binding. They can change their minds if they have to later. The sketch serves its purpose as a rich reminder of what was thought and discussed, but feels safe.

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:28 AM
sheepstealer’s comment is:

My right ear sticks out further than my left ear. It wasn't always that way, but because of the weight and shape of my Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil, my physical appearance has been altered.

Do I sketch with my pencil? Yes. And I take notes with it, and tap the table with it in rhythm to the music I'm listening to. I use it to show magic tricks to my kids (and no, not just the “rubber pencil” trick).

In my mind there may not be a finer piece of design than the #2 pencil. It’s brightly colored so it’s easy to see. It’s angled so it won’t roll off the desk. It's just the right size to fit in the adult hand, yet still comfortable in the hands of a preschooler. It’s addative on one end, subtractive on the other. In perfect harmony with the universe.

It works when the power goes out.

I cannot explain my obsession with the pencil. Perhaps it goes back to my traditional upbringing. I also like hand-made paper, wood type, letterpress printing, and 60s cars restored to their original off-the-showroom-floor condition.

The pencil also helps remind me that the most critical portion of my design work happens in my head, not on my desktop.

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:28 AM
MisterKen’s comment is:

It's all about the lead.

Sanford, All American Naturals #2 pencils.

They smell good.

They taste good.

I have a sketch book that I've used for years (i loose it and then find it again). Its fun/sad/embarassing to see what I've come up with over the years.

I'm not a pencil pursist. I love my new russell+hazel notebook that i use with a microfine uni-ball pen.

Hands up, who has a office supply addiction?


On Sep.16.2004 at 10:31 AM
elv’s comment is:

I agree with ian : don't ever erase anything when you sketch :)

I use cheap black Bic Cristal to draw, but I could use any pen that glides well.

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:42 AM
Paul ’s comment is:

About four years ago I had the sad but interesting task of helping my wife clean out the home of her Grandparents after her Grandpa passed away. Other than an epic collection of Playboy magazines dating back to the seventies and a few schocklingly racist tchotchkes, the best thing I came across was this:

Perfectly balanced, the wood worn to a smooth and supple texture, it has become an extension of my hand. And I couldn't pass up trying it when I saw that box of leads (now empty but never to be discarded)! I now use Sanford Turquise leads, 5B. Nice and soft.

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:52 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

10 year-old Staedtler 0.7 mm mechanical pencil. I don't like the way 0.5 lead cuts into the paper.I can't stand the feel of wood pencils. Also, they have to be sharpened. On the downside, mechanical pencils don't inspire lyrical waxing the way the wooden ones do.

I use my computer more though. Nothing lyrical about that.

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:09 AM
jenny’s comment is:

I'm a pencil person myself - 2B is probably my favorite, but I have a whole range. But I'm no purist - I use uniballs and sharpies too. And sometimes colored pencils or oil pastels when the mood strikes - and whatever else is on hand when the mood strikes.

Ian, I'm with you on the good pencil/better eraser front, too.

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:20 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

While viewing his Guggenheim retrospective, I learned that Frank Gehry sketches with crumpled up pieces of paper held in place with scotch tape.

That really explains his final results, doesn't it?

Turns out this whole time Gehry actually wanted straight walls and 90 degree angles but the crumples always got misinterpreted by the engineers. ;o)

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:23 AM
Patrick’s comment is:

Sharpie Twin Tip. I need two widths: ultrafine for details and writing, fine for outlining shapes. Back in the day, I used the real deal, but don't bother anymore. A Black Sharpie is all I need: my sketches are simple, like this.

That said, I'm with Monsieur Kingsley, it's the end result that counts. I often have it worked out in my head and start laying it out without putting pen to paper.

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:32 AM
Dom’s comment is:

Give me a pencil, a sharpie, or a nice black rollerball pen, a peice of paper, napkin, whatever, and some tracing paper (If you've got some) and I'll be just fine.

When I have a pencil in my hand, I've got much more control and I can make quick changes, erase things, etc. I'm not picky about what I'm working with. Just as long as I have a way to let my ideas take form or get written. I think the computer has become to many designers, a stubling block, as they've left behind the natural and engrained sketching that we've learned since childhood with crayons and chalk.

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:35 AM
bDuffie’s comment is:

When using pencils, 2H or 4H. They don't smear, and still erase but leave a ghost from chiseling into the paper. It makes for almost an onion skin effect.

Really rough sketches get done in sharpie or sometimes charcoal pencil for something fresh.

Uniballs are always in my bag so they get used a lot too. I just picked up some Sakura Micron Pens and they are fun. Don't bleed like sharpies and uniballs, so the lines stay fine. Nice for sketching type.

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:35 AM
ben...’s comment is:

pilot precise V7 rolling ball fine

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:43 AM
szkat’s comment is:

i once read something by a guy who was making fun of himself and other designers: "for those of us who doodle away boring meetings in the margins of our legal pads with black ink from a uniball micro tip."

and i was like, God, he knows me.

pencil is not strong enough for me - i need the contrast when seeing my ideas. and not being able to erase means i can watch the progression of my idea travel across the page like a comic strip. but really, i'll draw with a stick in the sand if that's how the spirit moves me. it's all good.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:09 PM
marian’s comment is:

It depends what I'm sketching. If it's for design, I'll usually grab a pen (but never a felt pen, I only use those for inking in final art): there's a lot of Uni-balls around my desk. If it's for my "art/design/thing" I use a 0.5 pencil-thing (I am far too lazy to sharpen pencils, so hate the wood ones) of which I have many scattered around and usually have to go hunting for (look on the floor, there's bound to be one there somewhere!). I have no qualms about erasing, and I do it lots.

At home, I'll often steal my son's magnadoodle:

Ha ha, a friend gave me one of these. Alas, not quite the resolution I was looking for.

And David, I'm sure you are a sweetheart.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:18 PM
marian’s comment is:

who doodle away boring meetings in the margins

I've always wondered ... is this bad? Like, if the other people in the meeting see you doodling, does it mean you're not paying attention, or does it mean you're just expressive?

I do it, but I sometimes think I should sit on my hands to make myself stop.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I'm a pencil man when it comes to sketching. But, I absolutely love the feeling of a good ol' simple Bic ballpoint pen on a stack of paper. It's so smooth and so rubbery-metalliquey. I doodle like crazy when I'm on the phone or just staring at the computer, all my pads on my desk are full of completely senseless doodles, I was going to scan a few when I was cleaning out my office last week, but didn't have the time.

I also highly enjoy sketching in the computer. I can create equally messy sketches on Illustrator.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:27 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Coming from an Illustration background.

I always sketch with a PEN.

Doesn't matter what kind.

The reason: Sketching with a PEN

will keep you from the habit of erasing.

Offering a surer line.

I don't use erasers at all, when I sketch.

One needs to make swift and decisive lines.

Only a PEN can give you that line definition.

I adopted this technique after I learned Massimo Vignelli in conferences would sketch his ideas while he discussed the parameters of the commission with a client.

He used a PEN.

Albeit, my drawing teacher, 30 years ago. Advised me to gain control over my instrument. I should not erase. And sketch with a PEN.

I create loose sketches. With swift lines.

Most of the finite details are worked out in my head.

Working in Airbrush or creating Illustrations.

I work on tracing paper. I'll use a pencil.

Cut frisket with an XACTO KNIFE.

Almost a Surgeon, with a XACTO KNIFE.

Drawing, I'll use a Pencil.

Let's not have a discussion on the differences in Drawing and Sketching.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:28 PM
Greg’s comment is:

When I sketch ideas for a project, I use a pen, but that's because I'm left handed and I hate getting lead all over my hand. I don't know that its "permanence" is a factor. I'm not exactly preparing a future museum piece here.

As far as pen types, sure you can get all fancy and go buy some expensive Rapidograph, but in my office pens tend to walk off. So, I keep a few Pilot Precise Zing (fine) pens around, and chase them down when they're stolen.

Another interesting discussion might be what you sketch on. Personally, I don't get along with sketchbooks so well, again because of lefthandedness, so usually I keep a clipboard full of computer paper around to draw on.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:47 PM
sheepstealer’s comment is:

When sketching with a pen I'm not allowed to erase.

When I sketch with a pencil I choose not to erase.


= = = = = = =

Also, if you want to see the true value of a pencil sketch, find two sketches, one in pen, one in pencil. Enlarge them 800% on a copy machine. The results from the pencil sketch come to life. The pen sketch just gets bigger.

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:50 PM
Rob Myers’s comment is:

At the moment my favorites are:

Sanford Peel-Off China Marker: red, blue, black.

Col-Erase: blue.

Pentel .7mm propeller pencil with blue leads.

My blue Pentel goes everywhere with me. I use a G-2 for writing, though.

I think somebody already mentioned the stationery addiction thing. ;-)

On Sep.16.2004 at 12:57 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Sometimes I bleed myself and sketch with my own blood.

Seriously though, lately its been with sharpies on rag paper or whatever material I've put up on our big wall of "ideas." I like sharpies, especially when they're pointy. I've been thinking about charcoal again too, because I've always loved drawing with that stuff--the ultimate in smudging and fading and second guessing.

On Sep.16.2004 at 01:58 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

A good ol' No.2 will work any day, as will a pen of there is not a pencil around (I prefer the bic -I spent a whole summer once just sketching with that). I grew up sketching and drawing (ahem... DesignMaven) with a pencil so it's what I'm most comfortable with. Unless I am producing a final drawing, I will pretend there is no eraser on my pencil.

And yes MisterKen is right, Sanfords taste the best.

When I was in school I had an instructor who once said:

"Sketch out ideas with a pencil on paper. Computer programs make perfect lines and circles, so you will also make perfect mistakes. Sometimes it'll be the unintentional width or the weight of a line that will inspire a new and better idea within you. It also gives your sketches character."

Also at that time when I was interning, there was a designer who had been around for decades and still never used a computer. He sketched everything out and had a production artist produce the projects. It was a real treat watching and learning an old school method. Everytime I start a big project (or small ones sometimes too, when I have the time really) I sketch out my ideas like I saw the old man do it. I've become extremely comfortable with this method and have my own techniques that I've incorporated now. Learn and grow.

On Sep.16.2004 at 01:59 PM
Rob ’s comment is:

Well, let's see, thumbing through my sketchbook it seems I rely mostly on pencil (#2) and the indispensable ultra-fine Sharpie. I've never been a big fan of Bic pens (I love to write with fountain pens) and really prefer a pen to have a little heft to it.

That being said, it clearly is the final result and not so much how you got there that counts. And that's good news for me, since I really can't draw at all.

On Sep.16.2004 at 03:44 PM
Sam’s comment is:

This has just got to be some kind of geurilla focus group you're conducting, David. I assume Futurebrand has either Papermate, Uniball, or one of their major competitors as a client. Maybe I've been reading just a little too much Gladwell.

On Sep.16.2004 at 03:47 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> I assume Futurebrand has either Papermate, Uniball, or one of their major competitors as a client.

Of all the accusatory comments that have been left on Speak Up over the years, this one is, by far, my favorite. I now think David has plotted this all along, he befriended us and became an author on Speak Up so he could conduct focus groups for his employer… it all makes sense now.

On Sep.16.2004 at 03:53 PM
David Weinberger’s comment is:

Nope. I wouldn't do that. Just a nice conversation amongst designers.

On Sep.16.2004 at 03:53 PM
szkat’s comment is:

marian - i read that while working at a company that had many boring meetings. but since the job was "sexy" (hate that word) and kind of glamourous - people wore cuff watches and fedoras and were in bands and rocked out on the weekends - we sometimes brought beer to the meetings (twisted the cap off my budwieser before we called into the conference) and everyone doodled, passed notes, and held up signs for the others. as in, signs written in sharpies that said "who are they kidding?," or even "oh f***."

those meetings were the best i've ever attended :)

and often the doodles had something to do with the subject at hand - sometimes leading to ideas implemented later.

On Sep.16.2004 at 03:57 PM
szkat’s comment is:

sorry - ps. - my point is that without doodling they would have been boring. with doodling, wasn't bad at all.

the beer helped too.

On Sep.16.2004 at 04:00 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Oh, then I'm disappointed. It would be in fact quite brilliant to do a little testing in this way. Nor did I mean this as an accustation--think of it as a helpful suggestion to all the marketers and brand masseuses out there.

On Sep.16.2004 at 04:02 PM
Nicole’s comment is:

The Uni-Ball Vision Elite in Black and Blue-Black has been very good to me...

On Sep.16.2004 at 06:43 PM
Dirk Brandts’s comment is:

Prefer to doodle mindlessly in pencil--Ticonderoga No. 2

If I expect to show it, I draw with pen--Pelikan 120 if I'm in the studio or else Pilot G-2 when I'm out.

On Sep.16.2004 at 07:02 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

I think it is more about what you have to say than the tool you use to say it. I'm more concerned with getting the idea on paper. The right tool can add appropriate emphasis.

The computer is another sketching tool - it just lacks soul, from a humanist perspective.

You can generate this month's Word It with a variety of tools.

I have an architect as a client who harshly judges people that do not use fat sharpies or make bold strokes in their sketches. I find his singularity a confining viewpoint, albeit an entertaining one as he has focused on this point for years.

Don't be afraid of pencils.

On Sep.16.2004 at 07:03 PM
Custom Kahuna’s comment is:


I agree with the first post. If you said that to me, I'd think you were an asshole, too.

Anyway, I'm a sketch monster. Anytime, anywhere, any tool. But I have my prefs: pencils still rule. Unsharpened ones are best, 'cause you can't get too focused on detail when you've got a chunk o' graphite in your paw.

On Sep.16.2004 at 07:20 PM
TJ Lomas’s comment is:

Asking for a pencil sounds perfectly reasonable. Give me a cheap plastic 0.7 mechanical pencil and a white eraser so I can work through some ideas. Later I use my scribbles/doodles/roughs as foundation for my inks to go over, or a scanned layer to draw over the top of in a vector program.

I can't imagine getting static for asking for a pencil.

On Sep.16.2004 at 08:52 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

The fascinating thing about this throwback carpenters pencil is that to use it well, you need to be slightly relaxed and be willing to let things flow. If you don't the lines don't work.

David: congrats again and I will be in touch soon.

On Sep.16.2004 at 10:22 PM
ps’s comment is:

whatever i can find. usually i buy stacks of pilot razor points. friday afternoon and weekends i try to sketch by arranging beercaps. the more caps i can drum up the better the result.

On Sep.16.2004 at 11:46 PM
Reno’s comment is:

I have to use a pencil, usually a mechanical Staedtler. Wooden pencils are great, and I like to use the side of the lead, but I like to work in cafes, and I always lose the sharpeners I try to carry with me. I've sometimes been reduced to "sharpening" on the concrete pavement outside of a coffehouse, which generally raises some eyebrows from passersby.

My sketches are wildly inconsistent, and sometimes I'll just stumble upon a PERFECT illustration, and it's nice to be able to carefully ink it, erase the pencil and have a finished piece ready to go.

One of my hangups is my sketchbook. I don't know if there is some compulsion to "save" the sketchbook paper, but I'll have a mostly empty sketchbook with me, yet end up sketching on loose scraps I find around. I also have one of those aluminum clipboards with the box compartment. (Like a large version of a policeman's ticket pad.) It's nice to be able to carry lots of paper, and to have a nice drawing surface so Sharpie bleed-thru doesn't mar the coffee shop tables. I can carry some pages already marked with proportional borders for single page and spread ads. The metal clipboard can also be handy for self defense if a client really hates your ideas.

Also indispensable for my more finished marker comps is my TRIA cool-gray #4 marker. It's nice to be able to add little details and shading. I'm weird that way.

On Sep.17.2004 at 12:36 AM
big steve’s comment is:

I'm soooo not a drawer... but I'm all about the notebook / sketchbook journal thingie that i never ever ever let go of. Because of my writing style (technical, not figurative) I can't stand anything but Pilot pens when it comes to pens because everything else skips and fades on me. The twin tip sharpie is kick ass too, but I'm also a micro writer and will use a maximum of a .05mm pen for writing. I hate than pencil is light and smears and can be erased (thus not as confident a tool) but (for me) it's way more reliable than a rollerball or ball point (I've even used some mega expensive mont blancs, etc but the Pilot always trumps them).

The best pen i have ever used is a Rapidoliner... the coolest discussion about the nuances of pens i've ever seen is at Danny Gregory's site.

On Sep.17.2004 at 03:45 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Two more things.


I find that a pencil produces just the right amount of friction with the paper. For me most pens are too slippy to be comfortable.


Last night I told my wife about Mr Weinberger receiving grief for joking with a friend/acquaintance. Her response: "What a bunch of women!"

On Sep.17.2004 at 04:58 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> it just lacks soul, from a humanist perspective.

Regardless of the perspective, this is a common complaint about the computer and, to be honest, I think it's getting a little old. Does a pencil have more soul than a computer? No. Does a sharpie have more soul than a computer? No. Does a… you get the point. It's like that IKEA ad, the one with the lamp looking all sad under the rain after its owner leaves it on the street. We, as people, are the ones who assign soul to objects based on preconceived notions, and it's really a shame that we are so afraid of letting computers be warm, fuzzy and soulful because we are headed to a world filled with computers, even moreso than now, so we better come to terms with this aversity towards them… even if — as most Hollywood people want us to believe — we are doomed to be eaten by them (computers, that is, not Hollywood people).

A computer sketch can have as much soul as a charcoal on handmade paper sketch. The soul comes from what you put into it.

On Sep.17.2004 at 07:21 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

I think what Don Julio was trying to say is that the results lack soul. (Correct me if I'm wrong, Don J.)

Yes, it's a tired old argument. ('cuz it's valid and has legs, IMO). No, a computer has no more nor less soul than a pencil. But really... does sliding a mouse around and clicking and throwing some toner down ever produce a piece of tactile charm? Not like drawing from the wrist or the shoulder or the hip and producing an artifact of scratchy love with a history you can smell, touch and taste.

I see both points. I love all my tools. There is a difference, though.

I think we're still talkin' about a quick, dirty, messy sketch. The reason a computer sketch can 'have as much soul' is that it's really good and getting better all the time at replicating nature.

But, if one can make a virtual something that looks like hand work or whatever on a G5, why not just bust out the pastels and make the real thing? (I know part of the answer: undo.)

Armin Vit says: A computer sketch can have as much soul as a charcoal on handmade paper sketch.

I'd like to see one. No wait... I'd like to hold one in my hands.

This is nice.

On Sep.17.2004 at 08:50 AM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Pencil/pen to paper is an immediate result at the hand of the creator. Like the beauty of Leonardo or Michelangelo's actual sketches - there are intricacies and intangibles that the computer can only imitate (Insert texture filter here).

Even Patrick Nagel's cheeky 80's Playboy prints take on a whole new quality when you see his pencil drawings. I do appreciate well-crafted bezier curves - but that is akin to an eraser on a pencil. You can fine tune the line to "perfection" without any evidence of the first gesture. Who actually makes a mark on the computer and then doesn't adjust it?

Without a printer, ink cartidges, electricity, hardware and software, fans of computer sketching are out of luck. I do think the subtleties I refer to as "soul" are harder to find electronically. I think the computer is a fine tool - but is too often used as a shortcut, or crutch for people who don't want to learn how to draw. Give me paper and an "old school" writing instrument any day, anywhere.

On Sep.17.2004 at 09:08 AM
Jonathon’s comment is:

I used to use a Pilot Razor Point, but spilled some water on my sketch and watched it fade away in a big pool blackish blue gunk. I then found the ZIG Memory System Millennium in my wifes scrapbook drawer. Water proof, fade proof, non-bleeding pigment ink that glides right onto the page. Scrapbookers have some of the coolest supplies that I have ever seen.

On Sep.17.2004 at 09:11 AM
David V.’s comment is:

Armin Wrote:

Regardless of the perspective, this is a common complaint about the computer and, to be honest, I think it's getting a little old. Does a pencil have more soul than a computer? No. Does a sharpie have more soul than a computer? No. Does a… you get the point. It's like that IKEA ad, the one with the lamp looking all sad under the rain after its owner leaves it on the street. We, as people, are the ones who assign soul to objects based on preconceived notions, and it's really a shame that we are so afraid of letting computers be warm, fuzzy and soulful because we are headed to a world filled with computers, even moreso than now, so we better come to terms with this aversity towards them…

I think that is going by the wayside rather rapidly. I know that I, and many people who are immersed in a computer-centric environment 18 hours a day, the computer has absolutely been anthropomorphised and freighted with emotional weight. There is still some distance, but I think that has as much to do with the form and surface of the computer as it does with the nature of the technology. You can chew on a pencil/pen, stick it behind your ear, draw squiggles on your fingertips, drum to the music, and then set it to paper and begin drawing lines. Computers are still too bulky, and also too delicate (try banging your laptop against the table to the beat) for that intimate physical relationship to occur, but as computers become smaller, lighter and sturdier, that is most certainly evolving. Just talk to an average iPod owner to find that out.

On Sep.17.2004 at 09:28 AM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Steve M: Exactly.

Maven: Working in Airbrush or...

Airbrush?! Now there's old school. I hung mine up years ago. But then - airbrush art used to be referred to in the same vein - as "lacking soul", or a lesser art form for the same reason as the computer - the lack of hand to paper. Graffiti would prove that there is tons o' soul in that genre.

A computer sketch can have as much soul as a charcoal on handmade paper sketch. The soul comes from what you put into it.

Love my computer and have no issues with how easy it makes my life. It was nice to hang up rapidographs and no longer deal with ink blots or clogged pens and stat cameras. It's great to hit "2" when I want an extra copy instead of ordering an extra print from a typehouse. I would offer up the belief that EVERY pencil/pen mark on paper has perceptable soul, but not every computer sketch does. Yes, people are the difference.

On Sep.17.2004 at 09:40 AM
Michael H.’s comment is:

Perhaps one of the romances with viewing sketches with pen/pencil on paper and not on a computer (besides Dvaid V.'s mention of the intimate physical relationship with a handheld "device") is that you can almost track what the author was thinking, catch a glimpse of what's inside their head, if you will.

Computer "sketches" just don't catch those accidents that even smudged erasures leave behind.

On Sep.17.2004 at 10:41 AM
Greg’s comment is:

Allow me to offer the definitive viewpoint to this discussion of the computer v. drawing/sketching, and hopefully put to bed any need for further discourse.

The computer is great. It can do anything you need it to. It's a designer's most powerful physical tool. But it is a finishing tool. Ultimately, we are trying to streamline the process from mind to reality, and putting down sketches on paper is the easiest way for most of us to think. I realize some are good with the computer and can sketch with it, which is fine as long as good work is still being poured out. But there's a very thin dividing line between using the tool and allowing it to use you. If you feel you know where that line is, more power to you. I don't.

Armin is right, in that soul is assigned, to whatever media is used, by a person. A computer's output has no more soul than an inkstick's marks on flattened woodpulp. It's what's on the paper that matters, not how it got there.

On Sep.17.2004 at 10:47 AM
Armin’s comment is:

I pretty much agree with all the arguments pro-pencil, I will not debate that. It is the con-computer arguments that seem too…easy. Yes, it's bulky and of course you can't tap it against the desk to a beat, but you are not supposed to do that with a computer — and you can get a tablet and pen from Wacom if tapping is essential.

> Computer "sketches" just don't catch those accidents that even smudged erasures leave behind.

As a computer-sketcher, most of my initial comps and concepts are filled with accidents, even smudges. When I start working, on say a logo, every Illustrator file I have is filled with bits and pieces, weird forms that I started playing with, "swatches" of color, finished, unfinished ideas. I mean, I do sketch and jot down loose ideas on paper, but to ignore the computer as a powerful sketching tool just because it creates perfect bezier curves and because it doesn't smear, smudge or smell is what I find debatable.

On Sep.17.2004 at 10:55 AM
joseph’s comment is:

Pencil for the rough ideas and further the good ideas in the midst of hundreds. Pen for the tighter, cleaner, and more thought-out ideas (usually only the best 3-5 ideas). Then the computer. I like it this way. It shows progress.

This little question got me thinking about something that has been bugging me at my current place of employment. I wanted to see if anyone else agrees. My boss refuses to buy layout bond. He makes us use the scrap copier paper. I HATE THIS. Every sketch looks like crap and I hate the way the paper holds the graphite. Am I alone on this one.

(If i am can someone please lie and say they agree so i don't feel completely stupid)

On Sep.17.2004 at 11:29 AM
Seffis’s comment is:

I'm a web developer/designer, so I always use pencil. Big huge box of yellow #2 high school pencils.

That, and I end up chewing the crap out of pens with my nervous personality.

On Sep.17.2004 at 11:35 AM
david e.’s comment is:

i think the definition of the word "sketch" (at least as it applies to designers) has changed quite a bit since the computer came along. I was never really able to "sketch" on a computer until I worked under someone who was a master at it. Working in Freehand, he would hack out a very rough layout or logo comp, then duplicate the page and rework it. Freehand is extremely intuitive. It allows you leave pieces of stuff all over the place as you can in Illustrator. Plus, you have multiple pages which can be different sizes within the same document, placed anywhere you want them on the pasteboard (and it does a lot of other great things that other design software doesn't — dont get me started).

So I guess you can say that Freehand has become one of my favorite sketching tools. Other than that, I like plain black ballpoint pens. The line they produce is expressive, as opposed to Uniball pens which produce a cold, uniform line. I must be the only designer in the world that hates Uniball pens. I can't even use them to sign my name — the ink is too thin, which makes them slip and slide all over the place.

On Sep.17.2004 at 12:00 PM
Nary’s comment is:

what's layout bond?

On Sep.17.2004 at 12:31 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

> what's layout bond?

in generic terms, pads of white paper with a bit more tooth (rougher surface) and weight than your run-of-the-mill laser writer paper.

On Sep.17.2004 at 01:12 PM
Nary’s comment is:


On Sep.17.2004 at 01:15 PM
Ben Wexlar’s comment is:

As a design student, I encounter a wide range of teachers, all with their own opinions and expectations of what a sketch should be and how the process of work is to be completed. Most hail from the days before computers where every last detail is brutally produced from the hand and, therefore, expect us to do the same. Others come from a new school of thought where a sketch is replaced by experiments ranging from the physical, the photographic, and the computer rough.

I take it all with a grain of salt and pretty much do things my way. Personally, I can't do anything without putting a pen to paper first. As a matter of fact, the computer is really the last stage for me. The high-contrast look of a black Sharpie on a quality marker paper still seems to work.

I despise a finished sketch in pencil, but have nothing against using them in the process. A good hard lead will aid in drawing nicer circles and "pathfinder" operations on paper. Designers should never give up what should be inherent in them, which is the ability to create visually interesting things. And if they can not draw well, then they'll probably have issues on the computer as well.

On Sep.17.2004 at 01:23 PM
Paul’s comment is:

joseph, I too prefer nicer paper, but I use the backs of discarded copier/printer paper sheets for sketching in my one small but consistent gesture towards reducing office waste.

On Sep.17.2004 at 02:06 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

My digital point & shoot camera - now that is a great sketching tool! I'm using it more & more to get my ideas down.

On Sep.17.2004 at 02:51 PM
Jim’s comment is:

I sketch in my mind and use the computer when I'm satisfied. I prefer not to waste time with the middle step of putting on paper what I already have in my head.

On Sep.18.2004 at 03:14 PM
Nary’s comment is:

*gasp* blasphemy!


On Sep.18.2004 at 03:43 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

but I use the backs of discarded copier/printer paper sheets for sketching in my one small but consistent gesture towards reducing office waste.

I found that a lot of paper was being wasted in the place I used to work at, and by folding it in half, french-fold style, and then binding it (we had a wiro-o binding machine) with our proposal covers, designers and accound people started asking for them in a regular basis. It took some time to find the perfect medium, but it felt pretty good once people started making their own.

On Sep.19.2004 at 03:11 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Why not both? We recycle office paper and print internal proofs on side two, or use the blank side for "sketching," however you define it. Designers contribute to killing more trees that almost any other industry. We do also keep layout paper and trace on hand as an important part of refining our sketches and I carry a sketchbook to capture fleeting moments of inspiration.

I'll have to agree with Armin, though it is probably more fun to debate. My desktop in Illustrator looks a lot like my sketch pads - perhaps even messier as I'm not a fan of layers when working out variations, but I keep cloning and editing so I can evaluate the progression - and travel backwards when needed - all on one big messy page.

I always pay homage to Doyald Young. His pencil sketches look like finished type, yet he uses Fontographer and Illustrator to finalize his work.

2B is the correct answer.

On Sep.19.2004 at 06:45 PM
Eric Diamond’s comment is:

Once I went back to pencil and pen and paper my work got a whole lot better. Here are my weapons of choice:

Pens: For rollerball I love the Sailor Gel Innovation, fine point. Not only is it comfortable, consistent and smooth, but the pen itself is worthy of a designer. They are impossibly hard to find, but I order them from Chuck Swisher (www.swisherpens.com) by the box. Black ones for sketching drawing and writing, red opnes for editing, Broad points when I need to be bold. Sharpies of course, and fine tip Micron markers for work with the straight edge and triangle (remember those?

Pencils: Faber-Castell TK-FINE Vario L. I have one 0.3mm and one in 1.0mm. They are the Ferrari of mechanical pencils. I also use a small battery operated elecric eraser made by Sakura. Very luxurious, especially on vellum.

Paper: My sketchbook is a Montblanc sketchbook that i got on ebay for around $30. The refills are expensive but the paper is excellent. I also use Moleskine large plain journals, and small sketchbooks. For graph paper I have become addicted to Edward Tufte's graph paper. Large 1 cm grids on super wonderful smooth paper, with barely visible gray lines. Also expensive, about $5 per pad, but I am fiercely protective of them and usually use it for manuscript drafts or concept sketching. It also comes in 11 x 17 paper that is great for graph design or flow charting. For design sketching I use Canson tissue on a roll. I love the sound of the tracing paper when I use a steel ruler to tear off a piece.

Why bother? After all I am a long time computer user (I am an original Mac user from '84). I did my apprenticeship keylining and after 10 years on the computer realized I missed the tactile connection I had to my work. Now that I can play with pens and pencils and paper again, I am much happier. Life is too short to work with crappy tools.

On Sep.19.2004 at 10:32 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Eric, you are the Nigel Slater of graphic design!

On Sep.20.2004 at 06:31 AM
Eric Diamond’s comment is:

Thank you!

On Sep.20.2004 at 09:06 AM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

I prefer to use a pencil. I think my ideas are meant to be toyed with, erased and redone. They evolve as with many projects do. It starts with a line and grows into a logo, a brochure, a package design, a purse, whatever it may be. It evolves and I think a pencil is the best tool for that purpose.

I don't only use pencil I also use pens, markers whatever I can get my hands on quick enough to get that idea down quickly. But when trying to expand on an idea I prefer the good ol' #2 pencil.

On Sep.20.2004 at 09:31 AM
Chris Rugen’s comment is:

As for the pen vs. pencil: I've gravitated to the pen. It's part artist becoming a designer and part forcing myself not to erase. Currently, my favorite is a solid black ballpoint, but as my sketching becomes more type-oriented, I want to use something with a bit more variation in line. Perhaps it's time for a fountain pen. I only use the pencil when I'm drawing, not sketching. And even then it's only 70/30.

I like leaving a trail when I work. The pencil encourages too much undoing for my taste.

As for computer vs. by hand, I'd say that students should learn to think by hand and that the computer is very stifling for a beginner, but with time it is an ennabler. I straddle the line, often mixing them up and bouncing between the two. Unless my idea is very strong or gelled in my head, I have to go to paper first, or my solutions all feel like what they are: playing on a computer. The computer can do things that are excruciating by hand, but the same is true in the reverse. There's no right answer, but I'm skeptical of computer-dependent designers because they are often Photoshop jockeys who couldn't set type if they were paid to (and they often are). No offense to those skilled designers who are computer sketchers.

Put simply: Most of the time, hand sketching implies and computer sketching specifies. This is why I prefer hand sketching early on.

On Sep.20.2004 at 02:49 PM
ian’s comment is:

i think the computer vs paper argument is a little trite. to each thier own. for me personally it takes me longer if i start "sketching" on a computer. i work faster if i get it out with pen and paper first, then use those sketches to create digital pieces. my creative director however sketches straight to the computer. the great thing is he doesn't force me into working the way he does. he knows i'm going to do pencils first and show them to him before touching my computer. other designers here show him thier sketches on screen.

all's well that ends well, right...

(also - where i currently work, comp 1 is always digital. never pencils.)

Jeff Gill - "My digital point & shoot camera - now that is a great sketching tool! I'm using it more & more to get my ideas down." - that is brilliant!

On Sep.20.2004 at 07:52 PM
rachel’s comment is:

how wierd am i if this post instigated a frenzied scrawling of notes and a rabid trip to staples where i spent nearly an hour in the pen aisle test driving everyones favorites and trying to pick my own, and in the end came home with a bulk supply of the top 3 and about 60 bucks poorer?

On Sep.24.2004 at 06:00 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

To correct a comment way upthread, Massimo Vignelli always uses a mechanical pencil with an extra-thick 6B lead for sketching. And I mean always.

On Sep.28.2004 at 10:36 AM
luke’s comment is:

Pencil, old kooh-i-noor 2mm metal mechanical pencil, no eraser, assorted leads. I have one wich is exactly like Paul's one.

On Sep.29.2004 at 07:47 PM
Jgildea’s comment is:

I sketch with whatever I have at hand. I have bar napkins all over my house with ideas written all over them. I prefer a pencil and my design sketch book that I carry with me to design classes and at work. A good 4HB pencil would be best for me, but I usually have a just a regular #2 mechanical pencil on me.

On Oct.03.2004 at 11:22 PM