I'm very new at drawing. I'm not very good at pencil types yet, but it seems like whichever pencil I use (I have a set of 12 ranging from 6B to 5H), I end up with smudges.

Is there a way to reduce the number of smudges I make? Or should I resign myself to them and just try to not make really awful ones?


6 Answers 6


One of the most common techniques to avoid this problem is using an extra sheet of paper.

Place the paper so it's under your drawing hand and on top of the part of your drawing you're not working on. Be careful not to move it around too much, using masking tape to stick it to your desk if necessary. If you use tracing paper, you'll still be able to see where you're headed through the sheet, instead of blocking off your view of the piece as a whole.

You can also start to build up your hand control. The smudging happens, generally, because your drawing hand is resting completely on the paper. On a horizontal desk, this in natural, but leads to smudging. Instead of resting your hand on its whole side, try using one of your pinky knuckles as a the only place your hand touches the page. This will minimize contact with the paper and reduce the chance of smearing.

If you're on an inclined desk or easel, you can change to an alternative drawing grip. The underhand grip, for instance, should keep your hand completely off the page.

Other than that, I'd suggest just being careful about watching your hands. Making sure your drawing hand isn't making contact with the paper where you've already drawn while you're drawing, and that your free hand isn't gripping the page on the penciled parts. Change your paper or hand angle as necessary to do this.

A note, pencils in the B range are softer and will smudge more and more obviously, so be extra careful with them. 4H and higher shouldn't smear very much at all, but they give you much lighter values.

If you meant the smudge after you finish them, I would recommend you purchase some fixative spray. It can be used for graphite, charcoal and pastel. Essentially, it adds a protective layer over the piece. There's also fixatives to use while working on them. I have no idea about these, but John Cavan does.

Aerosol hair spray does the same in a pinch, but will damage your work over the long term. However, if you're just going to scan it or take a picture of it, you may not care. The only time I've done it has been for keeping things from smudging long enough to get a digital copy for.

  • Hair spray is going to yellow the drawing over time, it's simply not designed for protecting art.
    – Joanne C
    May 7, 2016 at 13:52
  • @John Cavan. Yup, but it's fine for keeping something safe until you scan it, if you don’t need the original afterwards.
    – user24
    May 7, 2016 at 13:53
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    I would update to reflect, just in case we get comment wiped. :)
    – Joanne C
    May 7, 2016 at 13:57
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    @JohnCavan One step ahead of you! I meant to put it in originally, not sure why I forgot!
    – user24
    May 7, 2016 at 13:58

You can use an artist's bridge as well. It's basically a long metal ruler with either rubber feet at either end or a thin foam on the bottom. You can easily make your own out of a sturdy ruler as well. These are used by illustrators but could be useful to the fine artist as well. Here are some examples:

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The bridge is great for horizontal work but for easel work you can take a page from Salvador Dali's playbook and use a mahl stick. A stick with a ball of leather or rubber is a mahl stick. For the right-hander, the stick is held in the left, the ball is placed at upper right, either on the work surface or edge of easel. Some artists use a leather thong or nail to secure. You now have a movable bridge to keep your hand off the work surface. I use a yardstick with a ball of rags and tape at one end. You can easily make different lengths based on the scale you work at. Side note: see John Cusack demonstrate the use of a mini mahl stick in "Being John Malkovich". Try a wooden dowel with a tennis ball or solid rubber ball at the end.

Also, there is the issue of oils on the hand. To battle this use thin cotton gloves to handle paper. You used to be able to get these at photo supply stores. Cut all fingers off but the pinky for drawing hand. Again, this really just depends on how much you care about preservation of the white of the paper. For illustrators this is huge.

I add the following for thoroughness and the OCD tendencies in some of us. Use frisket film to protect areas you want crisp and white. I've used this for charcoal and the effect is quite profound. Sharp crisp edges, perfect, immaculate whites contrasted with loose charcoal painting and drawing is almost magical. Tedious? yes ....worth it? I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

For simplicity and ease of use, the extra piece of paper suggestions are great. Just adding my 2 cents for completeness. May I just add that tracing paper is great for this due to its lack of tooth and slippery surface.

  • 7
    I've never heard of an artist's bridge before, but it's a wonderful tool now that I've seen it, and they'd be super easy to make your own out of some cheap materials.
    – user24
    May 7, 2016 at 20:28
  • For highly detailed work, they're great.
    – Bubnoff
    May 7, 2016 at 20:45
  • Is frisket something like baking-paper?
    – Levente
    May 26, 2021 at 2:50

In addition to the suggestions by @user24, you can get workable fixative that allows you to continue to work on drawings after spraying it. This is handy if you can't finish the piece in the whole session and want to protect it against accidental smudging, especially if it's in a sketchbook, until you can work on it again.

You'll still want to apply a final fixative at the end, but make sure not to mix them up if you want to keep working. :)

Fixatives, for the curious, are protective sprays designed to prevent accidental damage to drawings, think of them similar to varnishing a painting. Any serious art store, and some not-so-serious, are going to carry these and they're not very expensive.

Workable fixative is also really useful with colored pencil drawings as a way of gaining additional tooth after many layers. It's not perfect, but can help add a few more layers when you're otherwise unable to lay down color anymore.

  • I've never used such a fixative. Is there a way to pick them out for drawings, other than searching "workable fixative"? If you have any tips, edit them in!
    – user24
    Jun 6, 2016 at 12:46
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    @CreationEdge - With links and a bit more info. Enjoy. :)
    – Joanne C
    Jun 6, 2016 at 22:46
  • @WebHead - Fixative is critical to protecting graphite and charcoal drawings but keep in mind it is pretty toxic. I usually spray the fix outside away from my work space when I can and wear a mask and ventilate the work area when I cannot.
    – rebusB
    Jul 24, 2018 at 20:37

Besides using a "cover slip" (a piece of paper under your hand) and periodic hand washing, another simple technique that works amazingly well is to start at the upper left and work to the right and down (left handlers start in the upper right). This avoids the need to place your hand on completed parts of your drawing, and thereby prevents smudging.


Yours is an ancient question! No doubt in my mind that our ancestors pondered this very point as they rendered charcoal artworks onto cave walls and as the earlier answers have covered most bases I'm left with this, also an ancient suggestion; the mall stick.

To understand and conceptualize, picture a broom handle on the table before you. Now, lift up one side with your left hand. Then rest you right arm somewhere along the handle between your left hand and the point of rest where the handle touches the table. Keeping the handle in contact with the table and your right arm with the handle, you are now able to cover most any region by swinging the stick and sliding your arm, and at no time does you drawing hand contact your artwork.

You can make a mall stick from the most convenient object in the studio, I often use a yard stick on edge. Or, you could purchase a thick 3' dowel from a crafts store. I recommend tying a padded soft cloth to the table end of the stick so that you can lightly lay one end of the stick onto the work when necessary.


You could also make use of a piece of carbon paper by covering the entire area of your drawing board with it, then you can rest your hand freely on the carbon paper and no smudge would occur. This is if the artist's bridge is not readily available.

  • 5
    Sweet niblets. Do you maybe mean "tracing paper?" Because carbon paper is messy and black and would have precisely the opposite effect that you're going for. Aug 12, 2016 at 11:05
  • Well,you could Also use tracing paper ,if carbon paper ain't comfortable @Ernest Friedman Aug 26, 2016 at 13:07
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    Carbon paper means a paper covered with a sort of ink. Why I'll go to use carbon paper to protect smudge (noise)?
    – user1091
    Oct 18, 2016 at 10:43
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    Tracing paper would work greatly because it shows what is present in its underneath. I'll +1 this answer if proper explanation is given.
    – user1091
    Oct 18, 2016 at 10:45

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