This National pencil Day we take a look at the history of the pencil and explore some fantastic pencil drawings at Trinity House.

Often considered a secondary form to oil paintings, pencil drawings were rarely seen as anything but a starting point for the creative process, and were rarely shown or displayed. However, as times changed and a more democratic approach to visual arts developed along with the changes in society, drawings slowly reached gallery spaces and were sometimes displayed along with the developed studies in other materials.

Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele and Jean Dufy went on to become fond of the pencil, often using the medium in many iconic artworks. While Salvador Dali would often carry a pencil in his pocket, to include a doodle on the back of his cheques, knowing it would never get cashed as the doodle he left was infinitely more valuable.

A brief history of the Pencil

Did you know that pencils owe it all to an ancient Roman writing instrument called a stylus? Scribes used this thin metal rod to leave a light, but readable mark on papyrus (an early form of paper). Other early styluses were made of lead, which is what we still call pencil cores, even though they actually are made of non-toxic graphite. But pencil history doesn’t stop there…

Graphite came into widespread use following the discovery of a large graphite deposit in Borrowdale, England in 1564. Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder. Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in string. Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus to the delight of many future artists, the pencil was born!

pencil artworks

Henri le Sidaner

La Table, Gerberoy, 1901

Le Sidaner drawing

Here we see Le Sidaner adopting and elongated almost pointillist approach to his drawing. Rather than using one continuous line, he creates short staccato marks with the pencil, recalling the signature style that he is so renowned for.


Edgar Degas

Champs de Courses, c.1869-72

pencil artworks

Champs de Courses, is a beautiful preparatory sketch for a larger oil by the Impressionist Master, Edgar Degas. The oil painting, Le défilé, also known as Chevaux de courses devant les tribunes, now hangs in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay. The drawing is crucial in noting how Degas’ interest lies in capturing the frenetic energy of the horse as they gallop past the viewer.


John Steven Dews

Preparatory Sketch for Battle of Tripoli

pencil artworks

This atmospheric drawing was Dews’ preparation for a set of spectacular, large-scale depictions of four great 19th Century sea battles, namely; The Battle of Trafalgar,the Battle of CopenhagenUSS Constitutionv. HMS Java, and The Battle of the Chesapeake. Dews has used his fingers to smudge the pencil, creating a wonderfully natural sense of softness and texture in both the sea and sky.


L S Lowry

To Lunch, The Manchester Club

pencil artworks

Whilst not a pencil drawing, this pen sketch shows Lowry working from memory to create a light-hearted, cheerful composition in his signature mature style. This drawing was used as payment for one of his many decadent lunches at Manchester’s Lunch Club.



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