4 Outside-of-the-Box Ways to Hold a Pencil

Have you ever met someone who has a certain way of doing things, and doesn’t consider ever that there could be alternatives? In most cases, we, as creative thinkers, don’t fall into that category, but I have a confession to make. When I saw Sherry Camhy’s article, “Exploring How to Hold a Pencil” in Drawing magazine, my first response was, “Why would I change the way I hold my pencil?” But then I saw the variety of examples Sherry presents, and my curiosity was piqued.

Samira (2009; graphite, 22.5×24) by Bernardo Siciliano. Courtesy Forum Gallery, New York, New York, © Bernardo Siciliano. Featured in Drawing magazine.

“The do’s and don’ts of how to hold a pencil are not written in stone; each of us has our own handwriting,” says Sherry. “Just as our signature identifies us at the bank, how we make our marks identifies us as artists. With an open mind and a willingness to try new things we can expand our expressive potential.

“When I was first learning to draw, my art teacher emphatically told me, ‘Don’t hold a pencil when you are drawing the same way you hold a pencil when you are writing.’ Experience has led me to think it is more sensible to say, ‘Hold a pencil the way it will help you make the kind of marks you want to make.’ Over my years as a teacher I have seen many artists hold their pencils in the most peculiar ways and still make beautiful drawings. When you are in a room with others who are drawing, stop and look around. Compare how you are holding your pencil to how other artists are holding theirs. You may be surprised by the variety of grips.

“Although mark making is unique to every artist, certain pencil grips do favor certain marks, effects, and styles. Here we present a few ways of holding a pencil alongside brief explanations of how they can help you achieve different results. In the long run, it is all about trial and error and the discoveries you make in the process.”

4 Ways To Hold a Pencil by Sherry Camhy (“Pin” this article!)

Drawing tips

Ancient Egyptian
Loosen your grip on the pencil so that your fingers spread out slightly, spaced along the pencil’s length. If you turn your wrist so that the back of your hand faces down and your fingers point up, like an upside-down bug, your hand position will resemble the ones ancient Egyptian artists used to create gracefully curving lines.

Mark making

Next, if you simply tighten your fingers a little and turn your wrist down, you will find this underhand technique to be quite comfortable for making long repetitive lines next to each other for shading with a wedge-shaped pencil point.

how to hold a pencil

Sign Painter’s Technique
In order to get longer straight strokes and accurate curves, pick up your pencil about a quarter of the way up from the point and place it between your thumb and second finger of your dominant hand. Make a fist with your other hand and rest your drawing hand directly on top of it. Both hands now can work together. The bottom one rocks horizontally, enabling the upper one to make vertical and swirling movements.

ways to hold a pencil

Calligrapher’s Brush Technique
Japanese and Chinese calligraphers hold their brushes vertically, inches above their paper until they are ready to strike with a deliberate, calculated movement. They can control the width of the stroke with the weight of their arm. Holding a pencil in the same manner doesn’t give you the same control over the width of your lines, but it will allow easy, flowing changes between dark and light. ~S.M.

Let us know which of the drawing techniques you love (or don’t care for—there’s no wrong answer) in the comments below.

Happy mark making,


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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