4 Ways to Hold a Pencil and Improve Your Drawings

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Learn How to Hold a Pencil

how to hold a pencil - the tripod grip
How to hold a pencil - the basic tripod grip is the most common grip. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc

There are many myths about how an artist should hold a pencil. Trying to force yourself to use an artificial grip is probably one of the worst things you can do for your drawing. It will only create stress and upset the natural flow of your line.

Yet, you can learn how to hold a pencil in new ways that play off your natural tendencies. A basic grip is the same as you use for writing and that can be adjusted to raise your hand off the paper, giving you more freedom. You can also train yourself to use overhand and underhand grips which are perfect for quick sketching and shading.

It is simply a matter of training your hand to adapt to new grips. If you take the time to do so you can employ each grip for particular drawings or circumstances and that can really open up your artistic skills. Let's explore each pencil grip, showing you how to hold the pencil and when you might use each.

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The Basic Tripod Grip

Using the basic tripod pencil grip
Using the basic tripod pencil grip. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The most common way to hold a pencil is the basic tripod grip. This is the same as the one you probably use for writing. The thumb and forefinger form a triangle with the middle finger, and that is supported by the ring finger and pinkie. 

This grip allows you to finely control the pencil and is ideal for drawing fine detail when precision is important. The upright position of the pencil also allows for accurate shading with the tip, rather than the side of the pencil.

When you hold a pencil using the tripod grip, you use your fingers and thumb to control the pencil's movement. For fine work, your hand can rest on the page. Use a spare sheet of paper to keep your drawing free from smudges and skin oils. If more movement is required, your wrist or elbow can rest against the edge of the drawing surface and be used as a pivot.

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The Extended Tripod Grip

The extended tripod grip is another popular way to hold a pencil
The extended tripod grip is another popular way to hold a pencil. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Another useful way to hold a pencil is in the extended tripod grip. This method uses the same hold as the basic tripod—a triangle formed by the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger—but it's farther up on the pencil. Because it is similar to the more familiar grip, you'll find it to be a comfortable way to hold a pencil for drawing while enjoying the extra freedom it allows.

When you hold the pencil in the extended tripod grip, small movements of the fingers can produce a much larger movement of the pencil-tip. This makes it an economical and efficient grip for sketching. It also keeps your hand off the surface, reducing the chances of smudging your work.

For best results, make sure you keep a relaxed grip on the pencil because a tight, vice-like grip is tiring and restricting.

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The Overhand Grip

Use the overhand pencil grip for sketching.
Using the overhand pencil grip. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The overhand grip is a popular way to hold a pencil for sketching and it allows you to shade with the side of the pencil. It is also a useful pencil hold for vertical drawing surfaces, such as an easel

To make the overhand grip, the pencil is braced lightly against the fingers with the flat of the thumb. The actual position will vary according to the proportions of your hand: the main thing is to have a secure but relaxed grip on the pencil. For best results, sit or stand so that your arm has a full range of movement, allowing for free, expressive mark-making. 

While the overhand grip is often demonstrated as the "correct" way to hold a pencil for drawing (and it is a useful method), it is no more correct than any other pencil grip.

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The Underhand Pencil Grip

Casual sketching with the underhand pencil grip, a less common hold.
The underhand pencil grip is a useful though less common way to hold a pencil. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The underhand pencil grip is a very loose and relaxed way of holding a pencil. It is useful for casual, broad sketching and it's a great way to draw with a charcoal pencil.

This grip is basically a tipped-over tripod grip, but you can also modify it to your comfort. For instance, you may move the thumb higher up on the pencil. Some artists also allow the pencil to sit in the "V" of the thumb and palm, with the index and middle finger gently controlling the tip.