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2B or not 2B that is the artists question

I was asked a question yesterday whilst I was teaching an art class, that I didn’t know the answer to. I felt though that it was one that was so simple, and so important to an artist that I SHOULD know the answer to it and which puzzled me slightly as to what would be the answer.

The question I was first asked was “Why did you tell me to use a B pencil to draw out the picture I am going to paint, Jackie?”

My answer was “Because its a nice soft pencil to use to do the drawing” .

My pupil then noticed that her pencils had markings on them that she hadn’t noticed before, and I explained about normal pencils that most people use in every day life, from school, to what a stationers would sell, would be an HB pencil. Its an all round pencil that makes a nice mark.

But going towards the harder end of the pencils are the H side, from H, to 2H, to 4H (I think that’s as far as my selection of artists pencils goes, 4H).

But, towards the softer end of the pencils are the B’s… B, 2B, 4B, 5B, and the softest one I have is a 7B.

I did some tonal blocks to show the pupil what they each did and the way to build up darker tones by cross hatching the darker B’s over the lighter but harder H’s.

“Ah, I can see what you mean ” she said. Looking back

And then, picking up the 4H she said “So, H stands for Hard?”

I looked at her and said “I presume that it might do, but I don’t know what the letters actually stand FOR ….”.

And what does “B” stand for, she asked  – Softer?”

“Er, I don’t know I replied. I’ll have to find out…. ”



But since then I have found out……………. and its simple… of course its simple…

H is for Hard


B is for Black !

The softer pencils make a blacker mark!


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