Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration Volpintesta fashion illustration Runway sketching: pencil on textured paperLaura Volpintesta, Fashion Illustation TribePencil for Fashion Design and Illustration in 2B woodless graphite Laura Volpintesta 2014 cropped thumbnail

Today: 7 key tips
Ode to the pencil for fashion design and illustration:


Yes! I love those felt tip pens!

Oh, the china marker! 

Charcoal! Colored pencils! Watercolor pencils! 

Design markers, felt-tip india ink, calligraphic tips, brushes, gouache, collage, 

Adobe Illustrator, iPad sketching,…. etc…


But honey, it all begins with the pencil for fashion design and illustration  .

Oh yes, it does!

When all else fails, just take a minute , a week, a year, and bring it back to the beloved pencil.

…and yes, of course, I have my biases.  So here they are.


WELCOME TO MY totally close minded “PENCIL for fashion design and Illustration TIPS”:

RULE NUMBER ONE: no  H pencils.

H means hard.  H pencils are HARD as well as faint, and in my experience, when I press to get a little dramatic dynamic, I end up denting into my paper or even cutting into it– but without being able to get a darker line at all. 

And if you try to erase it?  The dent will be in the paper FOREVER!!!!!

RULE NUMBER TWO: ditch the eraser! 

There was a time women were burning their bras, you can ditch your eraser for a while. (and burn your bra while you are at it, the charcoal will be handy for drawing!)

I always maintain that one of our biggest obstacles after a few years of elementary school is picking up an UGH- PENCIL!!! and trying to express something with it, when all we know how to do with a pencil any more is create letters, symbols, that work together to make words.   So the first wonderful thing I ever learned in my “fine arts” training was to ditch the eraser, which immediately trains you to begin drawing softer and softer, tentatively, mapping out your ideas on the page, responding to them, then getting more dark and decisive after you feel “safe” on that map and “know” what you want to say with it.

RULE NUMBER THREE for : be a softie!!

Grab your soft : in Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration language, B means soft.   B, 2B, 4B, 9B,……

the softer, the better!  The bigger numbers are the softer pencils.

That means that they don’t hold a very sharp tip for long, and that the harder you press, the darker and thicker your line will get.  

And if you rub your finger over your line, it will smudge and smear!!!

does that horrify you?

“smudging and smearing pencil for fashion design and illustration”?
Laura Volpintesta fashion face sketch Pencil for fashion design and illustration

Notice in each of these drawings how the face has been smudged to create form and shading, subtly or strongly.

 Smudging is liberating and addictive. You should try it!

Laura Volpintesta, Fashion Face Illustration Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration


RULE NUMBER FOUR: SQUINT like the sun is in your eyes!

The beauty of working in purePencil for Fashion Design and Illustration is that it rules out all color so you can really go in deep on tone.

Contrast. Light and dark.

If you squint, instead of seeing every little gradation of what you are looking at (when drawing from something you are looking at, like a model or a photo), you will see only the extremes, in a simplified form.

The lightest and the darkest. Working in a soft  Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration will help you map that out quickly. 

This photo below is rough, but imagine if I smudged it… all the lines you see would blend into soft grey areas.

Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration Volpintesta face study for fashion faces workshop Fashion Illustration Tribe Ebony Pencil


RULE NUMBER FIVE: there ARE NO RULES Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration !!!!

Don’t be fooled by anything else I say, rules are just to provoke you. Try them. Love them. Hate them.

Then trash them in favor of following your GUT INSTINCT!!!!(repeat this process with every rule).  

In my online courses here and at the university, I say: Listen to rules, but never follow one that crushes your inspiration and love because without that honesty, your work is “holding back” its most precious aspect.

Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration Volpintesta, menswear collection Colcci fw 2014 sao paolo fashion week SPFW

colored pencil in fashion design and illustrationLAURA VOLPINTESTA- UNPAINTED CROQUIS BOOK Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration

Rule number 6: know your fabric (paper)

Yes, when you are using pencil for fashion design and illustration, PAPER is your textile. Experiment.

 Try sketch paper because it’s sheer enough to trace, cheap enough to toss, but pay attention to its surface: is it toothy? (VELLUM or COLD PRESS ARE THE WORDS for bumpy, gritty surface that loves smudging and pencil for all paper weights).

Try photocopy paper and a number 2 pencil cause it’s all you got: you CAN do magic with it!   It’s slightly toothy and has a nice sheerness for tracing.

pencil for fashion design and illustration

Try DRAWING paper, it’s thicker and takes a wash nice (when you decide to smudge with water instead) the paper is more opaque but still a nice tooth is the best. 

I don’t love super smooth or hot pressed papers because I always think of fashion fabrics as soft and woven feeling.  

AQUABEE SUPERDELUXE sketchbooks are the creamiest, toothiest, thickest drawing sketchbooks which are awesome for liquid media too, if you think you’ll also use paint in the book.

But any drawing or sketch book can be experimented with.

Rule number 7: experiment with different kinds of Pencils for Fashion Design and Illustration

So it’s just a pencil, right? A yellow number 2 pencil for fashion design has its glory.

 Let yourself try the Ebony pencils too, they are soft and have a wide lead.

Try 2B, try 6B, try 9B.

 Try woodless graphite pencils in those softnesses (no wood, more lead!!).

 Try fine artist quality pencils in softnesses. Sharpen them, smudge them,see how they feel. See what you like,

Try a black or grey Prismacolor Artist Quality colored pencil and see how its rich texture plays out over your toothy paper.  

Explore the juicy range from faint to fully rich and opaque in the Prismacolor or any rich, soft pencil.

 Even mechanical pencils are fabulous, especially for technical drawings (fashion flat sketches) or for artists who really like a “refined ” kind of control over the pencil. 

Mechanical pencil can be especially useful to have in your Patternmaking toolkit for fashion design.

But again, from my school of thought, i would say DO NOT USE AN HB OR H quality lead, go for the 2B or B.

Rule number 8: find out where you hid your eraser

When you are done with a lovely drawing of something you are looking at in a soft pencil, take a risk: take your whole hand and rub it all over the page. Your hand will turn black, your image will soften and dull, and grey over.  


Squint, and notice where  you see the brightest highlights. Use your eraser to DRAW THESE WHITE / SHINY areas not your drawing and see the dimension POP!!  (my love: the white plastic or vinyl erasers). 

All of these goodies come in your supply kit Freedom Fashion Online Program

Rule number 9: get in touch with your dark side

Like wise, after finding those bright highlights, squint again and find the darkest black areas of what you are looking at, and add those in too.  SHADING TECHNIQUE is everything.  If you squint and look at any of these drawings you will in fact notice the darkest/blackest areas of any drawing.

Laura Volpintesta design sketchPencil for Fashion Design and Illustration


Rule Number 10 using Pencil for fashion design and illustration:

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE OF ALL! Pencils for art and pencils for math, writing and schoolwork are two completely different things.

You MUST be open to “re-thinking” the pencils and letting it become a toy, a plaything, a pleasurable medium for creating art.

You will always create your best work in joy and pleasureable state , right?

Well, I hope that gets you fired up to whip out the old pencils, or order some new ones, and get drawing again.

For the pure joy of it, the pure love, the pure occasional frustration. Just remember, you are allowed to throw out anything you want to, or hide it away for another day.
Don’t forget!!!

We all make sketches all the time we don’t love, but it’s well worth opening us up to the moments of pure grace where we see beautiful magic happen on our paper, and we wonder if we had anything to do with it at all.Laura Volpintesta, Original Design, Quick Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration

Many blessings on your artist’s journey!

Much love as always, Laura

Laura Volpintesta, Fashion Illustration Tribe

Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration 2014 SPFW lookbook pencil sketch by Laura Volpintesta

When sketching with a digital app such as Adobe Photoshop Sketch App for iPad that I used here, you can still get layer able, textured, sensitive pencil work. I used the 53 pencil stylus on iPad mini.

Pencil for Fashion Design and Illustration Volpintesta, Sketch of dresses by Natacha Baco. 

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