Anatomy of the Human Body for ArtistsFigure Drawing FundamentalsPortrait Drawing FundamentalsArt of Caricature CourseStore Package Deals

How to Hold and Control Your Pencil

January 14, 201467 Comments


Make sure you have a well sharpened pencil and do these exercises as you warm up to draw.
1. Train your shoulder by filling a page with curves, circles and straight lines
2. Train your hand-eye coordination by drawing 2 dots and connect them with straight lines
3. Draw 4 dots and connect them with an ellipse. Ghost it first!
4. Practice controlling line weight by drawing curves and shifting the line weight
5. Practice clean shading by drawing a 6×6 square and fill it in with even tone


Holding the Pencil

There’s two common ways to hold your pencil while drawing:

Tripod Grip

drawing tripod grip

Holding the pencil with your thumb, index and middle fingers, like writing. This grip is more comfortable for using the tip of the pencil. Not practical to use the side. It’s also comfortable to control with your fingers to draw very small precise lines. So, it’s good for small strokes and thin lines that are uniform in weight.

Overhand Grip

drawing overhand grip

Holding your hand over the pencil. Your hand should be relaxed with the fingers and thumb lightly holding the pencil. You can still use the tip of the pencil by one of two ways. If drawing on a horizontal surface like a tabletop, simply bend the wrist forward a bit. If drawing on a vertical surface such as a pad resting on your knees or an easel, you can flip your wrist upside down to use the tip. Along with the tip, the overhand grip allows you to use the side, which is much more versatile than the tip. You can get thick soft lines, thin lines, and a transition between the two.

Controlling the Pencil


The wrist serves well for small strokes and details.

Since grade school we are accustomed to using the pencil for writing. Since writing only requires our wrist, we have decades of muscles memory developed for handling the pencil with our wrists. Though there’s nothing wrong with using our wrist when it makes sense, we would be limiting ourselves if we didn’t go beyond the wrist.

It’s ok to use your wrist and hold the pencil with the tripod grip for smaller details, but watch out for this…

Since using your wrist doesn’t allow longer strokes, we end up drawing a bunch of short lines to create one longer line. This can get messy and you may end up with hairy lines.

use the shoulder and wrist to control the pencil


The shoulder serves well for short AND long strokes. It’s much better for steady lines and fluid gestural lines.

Your shoulder provides a greater range of motion than your wrist. So, when drawing larger shapes, curvy lines, use your shoulder. This is especially useful for gesture drawing. Once you need to add some little details, you can switch to the tripod grip.

Using the Overhand Grip

Holding the pencil overhand allows you to use the side of the pencil. When sharpened correctly (as I explained in the pencil sharpening video..) this allows you to get larger strokes of tone. If you press lightly and layer one stroke over another, you can get soft gradations.

Shade with the Side of the Pencil
You can roll the pencil forward or backward to control the thickness and edge quality of the line. Use the area closer to the tip for a thinner sharper line and use the middle for a thicker softer line. And everything between..

Also, you can change the angle of your stroke to control the line thickness. Stroking perpendicular to the length of the pencil creates a thick line like I just showed. Pulling the pencil downward, parallel to the length of the pencil creates a thin line. So you don’t need to use the tip, though you can..

With a slight turn of the wrist while you’re pulling the stroke, you can create a line that changes from thin to thick.

This variation in line weight adds a good dynamic to our drawings. It’s kind of like using a calligraphy pen instead of a ballpoint pen.

The combination of an overhand grip and using your shoulder allows for the widest range of motion and line type. Most of the drawing can be done this way.

Muscle Memory

When we first start holding it like that it feels weird because we don’t have good control of our shoulder. We’ve only practiced using our wrists to write. We need to train our shoulder. It’s like playing sports. Repeat the motion so many times that it becomes intuitive.

Our friends at Wikipedia say Muscle memory is

“a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.”

So, at first, drawing in this new way is a distraction. Our mind has to focus on moving the shoulder correctly instead of making decisions about the drawing. Fight the temptation to revert back to just using your wrist with the tripod grip. Overtime as you develop the muscle memory you won’t need to think about it and you’ll use the pencil like a Jedi master.

“Patience you must have my young padawan” – Yoda


  • Start training you shoulder by filling pages of curves, circles and straight lines.
  • Draw two dots and connect them with a straight line to train your hand eye coordination.
  • Or draw 4 dots and connect them with an ellipse. Try “ghosting” the lines first by practicing the motion before making contact with the paper. This is a great warm up before starting your drawing session.
  • You can also practice controlling your line weight by shifting your curves from thin to thick.

Draw a 6×6 inch square and fill it in with a clean tone.
Or if you struggle with filling in large areas with clean tone, then draw a 6×6 inch square and fill it in with a clean tone.

It helps to shade only on the down strokes and lift the pencil off the paper on the way back up.

Focus on keeping stroke distance and pressure consistent.

A very good exercises for hand-stability and pressure sensitivity. If you end up with dark and light lines, it means either your stroke distance or pressure is inconsistent.

btw, a well sharpened pencil helps a lot…


Make sure you have a well sharpened pencil and do these exercises as you warm up to draw.
1. Train your shoulder by filling a page with curves, circles and straight lines
2. Train your hand-eye coordination by drawing 2 dots and connect them with straight lines
3. Draw 4 dots and connect them with an ellipse. Ghost it first!
4. Practice controlling line weight by drawing curves and shifting the line weight
5. Practice clean shading by drawing a 6×6 square and fill it in with even tone


Want more? Check out the premium courses. Head over to The Proko Store for the full line up. You’ll find cool things like Portrait Drawing, Figure drawing, Art Model Poses and a poster of Human Proportions.

Filed in: FundamentalsVideos

Comments (67)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. chris says:

    3 things
    1. When using what you call the “tripod” grip you can extend the grace of the line by sliding your hand to the far end of the pencil. This also takes the pressure off the tip and allows for more gross motor (shoulder)movement.
    2. When using the “overhand” grip turn your wrist so the styloid process of te radius is facing up, away from the paper surface. This allows you much greater sensitivity with the pressure of the pencil on the paper when drawing contour lines.
    3. When controlling for line weight make certain that the pencil is parallel to the line direction, as if the line is liquid flowing from the end of the pencil. This will help control the tendency to make mushy, soft tonal lines instead of controlled contours.
    Thanks for the vids.

    • Great advice Chris! I’ll give it a try. Seems like it would work well..

    • john tomasi says:

      “turn your wrist so the styloid process of te radius is facing up”

      This sounds interesting. But could you/anyone share this idea in a way that non-experts (like me!) could understand?

      • Chema says:

        A “styloid process” is a fancy term for a bone protrusion (thanks Wikipedia!), and Chris refers to the one of your radius (big forearm bone), which protrudes below your thumb. So I think Chris is suggesting we turn our wrist (and hand) 90 degrees, for a sideways grip, if you will, instead of overhand…

        …but then I’m tempted to hold the pencil with just index and thumb, like a painter’s brush. The best is whatever works best for you I guess, so let’s try them all!

    • Flavin Prince says:

      Excelente explicación, gracias!

  2. Beth says:

    Thanks for this great video Stan. You make me laugh. I am a new art student trying to break away from the short-stroke thing. Good timing as I have to fill a 3′ x 2′ page with my next drawing (industrial scene) so I will try to use my shoulder and see what happens.
    Best wishes

  3. Adam says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. Do you have any advice for holding digital stylus for drawing on an ipad (where there is no tilt support) or any advice for drawing on a tablet in general?


  4. Matthew says:


    Could you explain how you systematically control the pressure of the pencil while drawing? Do you create pressure from the turn of the wrist and fingers? Or with more of a pushing motion from the arm? I’d love to hear how you think about it.



    • chris says:

      Matt, I’m not sure what Stan does , but if you read my comment I offer 2 variations on Stan’s method. For the first one (tripod) by moving your hand far back on the pencil you greatly reduce the pressure on the tip since, in effect, if you dram parallel to the direction of the line rather than perpendicular to it, the resulting line will be much thinner and subject to very slight changes of hand pressure to accent the mark. It also has the added benefit of keeping you off the tip, as in a writer’s grip, so it doesn’t get rounded off and dull.
      For the second method, by keeping the styloid process of your radius up, (opposite the paper surface as opposed to palm down like Stan is doing, you can change the pressure (and consequent line quality, simply by squeezing the pencil slightly between your thumb and forefinger. This action all very slightly encourage a pushing motion towards the tip, resulting in a darker mark.
      As I am sure Stan would encourage: it takes a bit of practice.

    • Hey Matt, you could try out Chris’s method, seems like it would work well.

      I control the pressure mainly with the pushing motion from the arm.

  5. margaret van eyk says:

    Why do you always manage to brighten my day??

    Love watching your videos.

  6. Lucas Ribeiro says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! That’s exactly what I and my schoolmates are being currently taught _ controlling our own hands _ , thereupon, a subject that I’ve been trying to find out on the Internet for days. So, thank you one more time and congratulations for your website. It’s really very well crafted.

  7. With 20 minutes to spare, Justin Miller, Kit Dawson, Jordan Clark,
    Chris Powell and Daniel Childs walked into the building looking tired and a little stunned, some with their soccer jerseys still on.
    The Japanese branch of Tecmo Koei Games has released several new screens for
    their upcoming Playstation 3 exclusive game, Samurai Warriors 3: Empires.

    Each of them had to follow their own color through the web to discover the gift.

  8. Aliska says:

    Hehe…don’t know which I enjoyed more – the learning part or just watching you have fun on the video. Thanks for the lesson and for making it fun!

  9. Cindy Huerta says:

    Hi Stan. I’m very excited watching your videos! My 3 year old son uses to ask me to draw things for him, as I imagine all kids do. I got him a notebook where I teach him things and I’ve found it’s such a good way to connect with him since he loves learning new things. I just got tired of my messy wobbly lines, as you so well put it! Then I found your webpage. Thanks a lot for your great job! Greetings from Chile

  10. Alvin says:

    Hi, I never learned how to grip a pencil properly, so I use the thumb wrap grip.

    Will this effect my lines?

    • Yes. You can’t control the angle of the pencil. Can’t use the side of the pencil. This means you can’t control the line weight, thick to thin. When shading, using the side is very useful to get even tones and covering large areas.

      You’re not any worse off than most people though, since everyone is used to holding the pencil in tripod grip, which has the same limitations. Most people have to relearn how to hold the pencil when they learn to draw. Just part of the process.

  11. Eveleen says:

    Hi,I just started learning how to draw, but I really don’t know if I should use the wrtist or the shoulder. I draw better with the tripod grip moving from the wrist but it gets so tense and it really hurts and I cannot draw very fluid. Nonetheless, I have been doing for some days exercises to learn to draw from the shoulder with the tripod and the overhand grip.

    I feel more confortable with the tripod grip but I draw very slowly and the shoulder feels like I’ve just been hit by a car; I don’t know what to do… Should I continue with the exercises? Should I draw only from the shoulder or should I use it only for larger lines? Currently I am training to draw everything from shoulder,(I even try to write like that because I have horrible handwriting) but I feel like I’m never going to achieve precision.

    Thanks in advance!

    • chris says:

      Try drawing standing up with your paper vertical. Or prop your paper (on a board) on the seat of a chair (vertically) and sit opposite it.

      • Eveleen says:

        Thanks for the tip. I propped the papers against my laptop stand (very professional btw)and it feels way better. I still don’t feel very confident when I finish with the pen (lines are kinda wobbly) , but I hope to improve that.

  12. Wonderful post! We will be linking to this great
    article on our website. Keep up the great writing.

  13. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little
    more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  14. Alena says:

    WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for

  15. Spot on with this write-up, I really believe this web site
    needs a great deal more attention. I’ll probably be back
    again to read through more, thanks for the advice!

  16. To view the corrected NBC article that NBC later published, ld-219870011.

    Alternatively, if you are still not satisfied, then it’s still up to you
    whether or not you must proceed the use of it up to a month.
    In particular, changes were noted in the ways patients perceived their
    own voices, and their emotional responses to them.

  17. Link exchange is nothing else however it is only
    placing the other person’s weblog link on your page at suitable place and other
    person will also do same in support of you.

  18. This will help you in selecting the company on the basis of
    the services offered and also on the cost they charge.
    These companies have professional staff which carried your goods from one place to
    another. It must be active in the moving industry for more than ten years.

  19. Roosevelt says:

    I relish, result in I discovered exactly what I was taking a look for.
    You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a
    nice day. Bye

  20. Mariel says:

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it sewms as thokugh you relied
    on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why
    throw away your intelligence onn just posting videos to your weblog
    when you could bbe giving us something enliggtening to read?

  21. Women were seen wearing them everywhere, from the mall, to the salon, to restaurants.
    You are only recommended to use this type of dress as
    long as your body allows it. There is a certain type of fashion blogs content writing
    for which is done especially by prominent
    designers or their assigned group of website content writing professionals.

  22. seo dallas says:

    I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This paragraph posted at this
    website is truly pleasant.

  23. My spouse and I stumbled over here different website and thought I may as well check things out.
    I like what I see so now i’m following you.
    Look forward to looking over your web page for a second time.

  24. If you were doing no exercises prior to starting the diet,
    try and begin a walking program. The average HCG
    dieter experiences rapid weight loss averaging 1 to 3 pounds per
    day, most aim to lose 30 pounds in 30 days. “Looking at ASAPS statistics, the big push in Aesthetic Medicine over the last ten years is progressively heading towards more and more less invasive treatments.

  25. Unquestionably believe that which you stated.
    Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet
    the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly don’t know
    about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could
    take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  26. Botox, Face lifts, Breast Augmentation сan all be considered vanity procedures.
    Τhe Terminal Interruption օf the Reflux Source (TIRS) technique ǥoes beyond traditional venous ulcer treatments, and attempts tօ
    target tɦe caսse of the ulceration. Тhе most common and trusted
    technique іs the placement օf implant surgically.

  27. What i do not understood is in reality howw you’re nno longer really a lot more smartly-appreciated than you
    mighgt be right now. You are so intelligent. You understand therefkre significantly relating to this subject, ade mee for my part consider it
    from a lot of numerous angles. Its ike women and men are
    not interested until it is sometying to accomplish with Girl gaga!
    Your individual stuffs great. All the time take care of it up!

  28. somesh says:

    can i use the same pencil sharpening technique for graphite pencil that you use for charcoal one???????

  29. Phil says:

    I love you.

  30. Derrick says:

    Hi Stan,

    Im really glad I found you videos on drawing! Ive been searching for something like this for a long time. I just have twoa few questions. How long should someone practice these exercises for each day? And, I want to become an animator, so should still learn with/ without the overhand method? Lastly, should I focus on a specific video or drawing practice for animation?

    Sorry for asking so much, its just that Im 21 years old and feel like Im running out of time or too late t become an artist/ animator.

    • “How long should someone practice these exercises for each day?” – Depends on how much time you have. As you might expect, more practice is better. If you are young and have time, it would be smart to use it now because as you get older, you get more responsibilities and you will have less and less time to practice each day. When I was 17-24 years old, I studied full time. 6-12 hours every day drawing, painting, reading, studying.

      “should still learn with/ without the overhand method?” – why not?

      “Lastly, should I focus on a specific video or drawing practice for animation?” – the gesture lessons will be the most useful, but any drawing principle will make you a better animator. Take a look at the art of Tarzan cartoon. The animators were knowledgable about anatomy and make the animations anatomically correct. Remember that cross training is a good thing. Just because something might not have a direct connection with what you’re studying, doesn’t mean it won’t be useful. The most creative people are able to take information from various disciplines and put them together in new ways. Don’t look for shortcuts.

  31. ronald says:

    did this suffered all night with shoulder pain now i just use the arm

  32. SV says:

    Thank you for your tutorials!
    If I want to practice S shapes and waves, is it better to draw it in one stroke or is using multiple C-shaped strokes also alright?

  33. First video since signing up here, on the suggestion of a friend (looking at your reference pose packs). I’m primarily a sculptor (clay), but have enjoyed drawing for as long as I can remember. However, I’ve got LOTS to learn! Enjoyed your video here, and plan to watch more as I have time, and reminders in the newsletters. 😉

    I’m mostly self taught, so having even some simple instruction should be a big help!


  34. Raeyanna says:

    Thank you for all of the excellent videos. As a complete and total beginner, I am enjoying your entertaining and knowledgable instruction style. Your approach encourages us to get acquainted/ reacquainted with our sketch pads and pencils in an environment that is productive and far less intimidating than I had first imagined. For that I am very grateful 🙂

    I have a question regarding the overhanded grip. I have noticed that I am beginning to extend my index finger and counter balance the pencil using the pad of my thumb to have more control when drawing using the over hand grip as the exercises progress. Am I doing something wrong? Could it be that while doing the exercise I am still drawing from the wrist and not the shoulder? Your had seems so much more relaxed.

    Thank you again 🙂

  35. Nordlys says:

    I believe you learn better if you put your though in muscles.
    I can’t get out from tripod (left hand) and thumb tuck (right hand) pengrips, but I noticed I can use the shoulder comfortably by visualizing and feeling my muscles instead of looking to the paper. You should get used faster to draw with your shoulder if you put your though directly in your muscles.

  36. Widget says:

    I’m the only person I know who draws with her pencil in a death grip.
    It is pressed roughly against my ring finger and has made a giant callous there. I’m rather proud I draw enough to get it to that point.
    I’m completely happy with my death grip since I can’t seem to control the pencil any other way, but do you have any tips for me about how to allow my arm to move in a fluid way? I’m quite happy with my art, but I’d love a little more smoothness.

  37. Steve I says:

    Maybe it is in another video somewhere, but what about drawing with a stylus on a Wacom tablet?

    Because the nib is small it can only be tilted to a certain degree which gives a lighter line. I end up using the tripod grip on the stylus.

    What is the recommendation for drawing with a table then?


  38. JEON Hwa-yeon says:

    I found and came here from kindly tutorial Dianne Mize.

    Because I desperately need to ascend my figure drawing ability.

    Nice to meet you, STAN PROKOPENKO.

    I guess you are interesting and popular teacher.

    I NOW know how to use shoulder from this basic course.


  39. Leonora says:

    Proko, i am very thankful and excited for the first free lesson on how to use the pencil. I will be watching the other free videos you will have. You are very kind to help in educational art material.


  40. Aiden says:

    Is the overhand grip applicable in drawing on small mediums like a small sketchbook or A4 paper? I can’t draw properly right now when I try doing it (I’m left-handed). I can do shady thick lines but can’t do fine lines so my gesture drawings look kinda blurry.

  41. Yara says:

    Hi stan
    Thanx for your useful videos iv learned a lot but I still have a problem drowning faces they aren’t match the real person i try to draw can u help me fix it
    Thanks a lot

  42. Joani Stotler says:

    You always make me laugh – I love your sense of humor and always learn something in the process!You make learning simple, fun and interesting.

  43. Gida Nasser says:

    I find it a very good video over Controlling the pencil, but here is what
    I don’t understand:When I draw a figure/ pose I must not move the pencil of
    the paper but if I have to measure a pose then I have to move the pencil of
    the paper or no?


  44. Simon says:

    How do you guys draw in smaller and thicker sketchbooks? I seem to always have problems resting my arm sometimes on the table, sometimes on the sketchbook. That said can someone also give a general advice as to how to rest your hand while drawing if at all, the differences while using tripod vs overhand grip, are you resting your arm always? It seems really hard to have a fluent stroke, pressure etc. my hand varies speed at which it moves trough different surfaces and i am having a really hard time controling it… Is it just up to muscle memory and i havent developed it yet?

  45. Alex says:

    What if you start with a tablet, do you need to master this way of using the pencil anyway? In a tablet you only use the tip of the stylus so I think only the tripod way applies. Will you miss something important if you don’t learn to use the pencil like this cause you’ll work with the tablet?

  46. Keith says:

    Oh, great…after I spent all that time carving up and tapering my charcoal I press too hard and it snaps on me… Guess I need to work a bit on finesse. Nice video Stan. I can see I’ve got a lot of practice ahead of me.

  47. Luke says:

    It seems that the images in the homework section aren’t loading properly.

Leave a Reply

Back to Top