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Earlier, for past 3 years I used to use at least 7 Staedtler pencils (6H, 4H, HB, 2B, 3B, 4B, 6B, 9B) for a single portrait drawing.

In last 1 year, I reduced it to around 5 pencils (2H, HB, 4B, 6B, 9B).

The main reason was that I felt it a bit overwhelming and complicated to manage more grades (by overwhelm and complicate here I mean I feel it a bit tedious to switch between 7-8 pencils while I draw a single portrait).

Now, I'm about to reduce it to even less. 3 or maximum 4 (HB, 3B, 5B, 8B) from Faber Castell.

Like mentioned before the biggest reason is I want to make it less complicated. I mean managing pencils and constantly brainstorming which pencil to use for different parts.

Now, I know it totally depends on how you use pencils. And it depends on individual skills and mentality. I know people who use a lot more grades and I know people who use only 2-3 grades. I'm also sure I won't be having any end result difference in my own work because of reducing grades.

But I would really like to know one thing. As we know there are around 16-20 grades of pencils available. And different people choose different grades. I really don't know if using more than 5-6 grades is very common or using less than 5 grades is more common.

Are there any disadvantages or pros and cons of using more pencils, say more than 5 for a single portrait drawing?

Or lesser, yet enough, number of pencils make things actually less complicated?

I want to know this, because if someone is a beginner, like I was once, he can make probably make a mistake of unnecessarily choosing more grades (like I chose 7-8 in my initial years). I made that mistake because I just heard what people are doing. I didn't think much about what I need. In last 1 year I realized I really didn't need that much grades for most of my work, whether it's portrait or other object drawing or sketching.

PS: Despite I've tried to be specific, I feel this question might generate some degree of opinions, but if possible please help to improve this question even more so it's less opinion based. I feel it would be really helpful to know if there are any known experiences.

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    You reduced not just the number but also the range. Is there a reason why you feel you no longer need anything harder than HB?
    – Chris H
    Jul 30 at 13:00
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    @ChrisH 1st reason is I never felt as much need of 6H and 2H. And I can achieve similar by using HB. 2nd reason is to avoid cost and complications of using more pencils.
    – Vikas
    Jul 30 at 13:03
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    This seems like a matter of personal preference. It's a trade-off between using consistent technique with a broad range of pencils vs. modifying the technique to achieve the results with fewer pencils. With the former, you need a good sense of how each pencil will appear on the paper to select the right one. With the latter, you adjust your technique in real time. Different people will find that one approach or the other works best for them. It seems like there's no downside to having a wider selection of pencils available, though, even if you rarely use some of them.
    – fixer1234
    Jul 30 at 17:22
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I think this may be a very opinion-based topic, however I'll give what I think is my best take on it. I am married to a proper artist, I studied technical drawing and architecture at school, and one of my 3 children creates artworks continually so we have a lot of materials, but very different styles. And all three of us will always go for a full range of pencils, inks, paints, etc so that we don't have to try and make do with "almost right" - I use very specific ones for my line work etc, and for different categories of shading, and it would annoy me to have to use one that wasn't "correct".

My wife uses a full continuum of pencils for all the textures they can give her, and my daughter seems to almost randomly choose them at times, but her artwork comes out looking beautiful, so it's all good.

Even for one artwork, this is opinion-based. Some folks will just use one pencil for an entire drawing, others will use multiples.

  • The Pros of having a full range of pencils:

You will always have the one best suited for the task available - no need to use one that's almost right.

  • The Cons of having a full range:

If you are overwhelmed by choice then you may find this very hard. You may spend lots of time trying to decide between your 5B and your 6B for dark shading, for example.

I think in your case, if you are budget constrained, and don't like too much choice, you will be best suited to having that limited range and using the one that gives you the closest effect to that which you need. Remember, there is no right or wrong in art - don't overthink things, and just enjoy your drawing.

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