How to sharpen charcoal pencils and graphite pencils

Often I can see Instagram posts where people show their drawings together with their pencils, and the first thing that I see is that the pencil tips are not correctly sharpened. One thing that I have learned during my drawings is, that you need to be very careful with your pencil tip. In the following article I will teach you how to sharpen a pencil correctly.

Pencil tip form

In the article about the best drawing paper you learned about the different textures of the paper. Now you need this knowledge to create the right form of the pencil tip. It is very important to know how to sharpen the pencils in the right way. If you want to make use of the paper texture, you shouldn’t create a very sharp pencil tip. If the tip of pencil isn’t very sharp you can’t draw into the valleys between the paper tooth or texture. The graphite or charcoal will only stay on top of the texture, unless you press very hard. Like this you can draw different kinds of texture depending on the paper you use. Again you can see, that the kind of paper you need always depends on the kind of texture you want to create. On the other hand you need a very sharp tip, when you want to create very soft skin, for example of a baby’s face, or when you want to draw very sharp edges. You also need a sharp pencil tip for very detailed small stuff like pupils and strands of hair etc.


Don’t forget the sharpening!

When people talk about sharping a pencil they normally thing of putting a pencil into a pencil sharpener and turn it. Finished! That is very wrong! To create great, realistic art, your sharpening skills have to be very high. Especially when it comes to charcoal pencils, you won’t be able to create a realistic portrait without sharpening your pencils very well. When I was at a drawing workshop of a very famous artist, I learned that a very big part of the work that you have to do during the creation of a new drawing, is the sharpening process. The first half day of the workshop was almost only about, how to sharp a pencil in the right way. At first, I thought, that this must be a joke, and that the workshop is very bad, but after using the sharpening techniques more and more, I realized how important it is to have a very sharp tip. I also learned how hard it is to sharp charcoal pencils and especially the Pierre Noire pencil. After you broke the charcoal three times very close before finishing a sharp tip you go crazy :D.

How to sharpen graphite pencils

Before you start to sharp your pencils you have to know if it is charcoal or a graphite pencil. Furthermore, you have to know the hardness of the charcoal or graphite. At first, I want to show you how you can sharpen hard graphite pencils (H9 to F). For softer graphite pencils and charcoal I recommend you to use the technique that I will show you later, because softer pencils normally break very easy. For my drawings I normally use seven different pencils. Three graphite pencils (H3, HB, F), three charcoal pencils (HB, B, B3) and the Pierre Noire pencil. The process is very different!


The first step with the hard graphite pencils is, to remove about 4 centimeters of the wood around the graphite. For this part you should use a razor blade or a very sharp knife. After this step your pencil should look like this or maybe even a bit longer.

Sharpen Pencil 1

In the next step you have to use grinding paper to create a very sharp pencil tip. The tip should look like a cone and be almost as sharp as a needle.


For the grinding process you shouldn’t use the grinding paper tools that you can find in drawing sets. It is much better to just use a normal piece of fine grinding paper. You can hold the grinding paper in one hand, forming a curve, and in the other hand you hold the pencil and move it over the paper and turn it at the same time. In the following picture you can see how you have to do it.

Sharpen pencil 2


After doing this for a while you should get a perfect cone-form with a very sharp pencil tip. In next picture you can see how it should look like. That was a very fast one and it can get much better! 🙂


Sharp Pencil

How to sharpen charcoal pencils

For charcoal pencil you have to use a different technique. Some people also use razor blades and grinding paper to get them sharp and of course it also works. There are always a lot of ways. What I do and what also some other good artist do is the following process.

The first step is pretty similar to the first step of the graphite pencil sharpening process, but you have to remove less material around the charcoal. If you remove too much it will break. You have to be very careful or you will end with a lose pencil tip in your hand :D. You goal could be to start like in the photo. On the left side you see a Pierre Noire pencil and on the right side a Conté a Paris charcoal pencil.

Sharp Pierre NoireSharpen Charcoal
The next step is maybe even harder. Now you have to use a pencil sharpener. To sharpen the pencil in a good way you have to use the big whole of the pencil sharpener. With one hand you hold the sharpener and with the other hand the charcoal pencil very soft. Now you have to start very soft and carefully. Turn the pencil with a lot of caution. That is the part that you have to practice a lot. When you start with this technique, your charcoal will probably break very often. Maybe after a few times you thing that this technique is sh*#t.

Believe me I thought the same, but at the same time I saw a really famous artist doing it like that with ease and very fast. So I continued with this technique and know I used it every day, because it is much faster than using grinding paper and razor blades every few minutes. After the first tries I also used grinding paper and razor blades for a while, but know I am very happy that I stayed with this technique. Sometimes I also make some corrections with the razor blade but normally it works only with the sharpener.

Sharp Charcoal 3

Practice a lot and find your way!

Now you know how I sharpen my pencils. I hope it will help you to improve your drawings. Of course there are always different opinions about how to do it. For me this technique works very well. Nevertheless, you should try out what works best for you.

Please let me know how it works for you and what techniques you normally use! If you found a better way please share it with use in the comments!


All the Best







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