Skip to main content


Lesson 2 from: The Power Of Your Own Two Hands

James Victore

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

2. Pencils

Next Lesson: Pens

Lesson Info


Are you ready? 'Cause I'm ready. If you're ready, let's do this. (upbeat music) We're gonna start with a pencil. I know, I know, what the hell is there to say about a pencil, a lot. I always carry a pencil, pen, probably a sketchbook, but definitely a pencil with me everywhere I go. I'll show you my everyday carry as well as what I always have in my backpack, but I always have a pencil with me and I generally always have a sketchbook 'cause I'm always working. I'm always thinking, I'm always writing things down. I'm always taking notes. I'm always concerned with a schedule and because I have children, most of my sketchbooks are lived in by other people at the same time as I use them. And I have a long history, a long relationship with pencils, especially just that the simple Ticonderoga 2, right? An excellent, excellent tool. My earliest recollection, my earliest memory was I remember I was always drawing and I remember one night I was drawing airplanes 'cause I was raised in the milit...

ary. Well correctly, you say reared in the military, but I was raised in the military. So I was always drawing battle scenes and airplanes and things, we were in the air force. And I remember drawing and then my father said, "Oh, let me show you how to draw a jet." And my father started doing this drawing where it was just like, it was like, I guess you would call it sketching. It was just these little hash line marks, like slowly making the outline. And I remember distinctly really having this urge to grab the pencil out of his hand and just grab it and say, "Oh my God, make a mark, make a mark, stop with that, eh, eh, eh." So, and the first thing I'm gonna show you about pencils and this pertains to all the different type of pencils that I like using and all the different ones that I'm gonna show you, is I'm gonna show you how to sharpen them. I know, really James? Really, gonna show me how to sharpen a pencil? I'm gonna show you how I sharpen a pencil because when I'm working, I push really hard. So I break pencil tips. I break them all the time. So I don't use, I've got electric pencil sharpener. I've got a bunch of these things. Look this doesn't even have a hole in it. How do you sharpen a pencil with this? So I don't use that. This is like my, this sits on my desk and these are the kind of, these are the pencils I'm currently knowing my way through. And you'll see there's always a razor blade, okay? So that is how I sharpen pencils. And I'll show you, I'll sharpen a couple of these, a couple of theses I want to use and they need a little bit of work. So I'm gonna sharpen that one and I'm gonna sharpen this one. Also, I am very particular about pencils. I do like Ticonderoga 2, I do like Ebony. I do like, what else do we got? What is the other one here? What is this one? Black Wing, that's in good one too. But these are my go-to pencils because they've been given to me, gifted to me by friends. And they all have their little expressions on them. And this one says, I am a tool or a weapon and completely free, which is literally terrifying. That's what it says. This one says, faculty. So these are all gifts from friends. Let me see. Perfect is the enemy of fun. Oh, that's my friend Christian Helms and his pen. I use this pen to stir paint one time. So it's pretty unusable. So let me go through and let me show you how I sharpen a pencil or these bigger colored pencils, okay? So what I do is I hold the pencil, hold the blade, and basically hold it down. And I basically just push through and start shaving off little bits. And the reason I do this, is 'cause I want to keep all of the carbon, all of the pencil part, all of the drawing part exposed, you see? So now I've got, I don't have a fine point. I have this clumsier thing and the reason I do this, basically I want this from all the tools I show you. Even from something as rudimentary as a pencil, I don't want that fine line, right? The line I'm looking for is the line I don't expect. So if I have this kind of, if you saw it really closely, it would be more like the end of a stick than a fine pointed arrow, right? Because it's going to give me all kinds of different thicknesses, what I'm drawing and I'm into that, I'm interested. I'm the "Feck Perfuction" guy, right? So I'm interested in what surprises, what accidents can happen. So I'm gonna take one of these pencils and I'm gonna just start it off just to show you how to cut them with a blade. This yellow one I love because it says we don't need no education. Never write with a tool that doesn't have an attitude of its own. This one says my other pencil is a pen (laughs). This one we're gonna start. Now, there's chance that I might get this sucker started and it might actually draw very well. It's got a hard outer case there gonna cut through that. Clunk, clunk, I'm hitting my cameraman with the shards of sharp wood (laughs). Sorry about that buddy. How you doing? You got your safety glasses on? Oh, by the way, yeah. Safety glasses, right? I almost poke my eye out. Okay, so now I have this thing uncovered. Let's see what kind of, and it's totally square. And now what I'm doing, I'm just kind of like taking a little bit of that edge off. I like roll it around, get the sharp edges off and now I can figure out whether I like it or not, right? That's actually not bad. It's a little gray for me for my taste. See how this, the Black Wing, this heavier one. See how that's a much blacker line. I really love that. Now, one of the things that you notice when you start getting in there and start making a real mess in there, is that the denser parts have a gloss to them. So when you start, when you take this to a scanner, because everything has to be scanned in or photographed at some point, right? We can't just like deliver this to a printer anymore. So when you start scanning this, you realize that sometimes depending on the angle of your scan bed or which direction the light is coming through, you might have to move this around on the bed, so you don't get a reflection from it 'cause then you'd have to like clean it up or if that's something you like, then go for it. The other reason why I like pencils and have traditionally, is again, I started drawing airplanes, right? I would draw a little airplane. So I'm proving to you now that I can't draw. So that's an airplane. And if he was dropping bombs, what I would do, I would take these bombs and I would draw them and make sure they were nice and thick. And then I would like make them look like they were going fast, right? So I'm basically just smudging him. So I do a lot of that. And I have ever since I was a kid and I'll show you in some finished products, how that shows up in the work. So that is the beginning of a very simple pencil. Crazy, right? So I break the tips. So I sharpen with a blade and I do that for all of them, including these big suckers. This is a big Lyra color pencil. I have a whole box full of the entire rainbow. I don't use the entire rainbow. I actually only use a couple of colors and I like black because everything's gonna get scanned in and everything's gonna get colorized on the computer, right? I'll show you some instances where I do actually work in color but actually because I'm working in bars and restaurants and coffee shops, most of the stuff starts off as just black, okay? And this guy, you need to really be careful 'cause there's a lot of stuff that's gonna come off of him, right? In order to sharpen this and expose that big meaty end of it, I love it. So this guy, let's see. Someone's gonna have to vacuum after this. Not gonna be me. Okay, here we go. So this line, look at that. That is a big juicy line and you can see, I can move it around and get the thicker parts and I can move it around and get the thinner parts, right? So this kind of pencil, I really love. And you'll see that I'm working. I currently am working on just tracing paper. It's just fast and easy for me. And if I do like something, I can basically trace it. I can slide it underneath and I can try to match it. That generally doesn't happen because especially for typography, for letter forms, I'm not one of the designers who will draw a letter form or draw a word 1530 times. and then just start cutting them up and put them together. I generally draw it two or three times and I try to pick the first, right? Because the first iteration has truth to it. It has life to it. The rest of the stuff we're just trying to perfect, right? And we end up kind of noodling it to death and quite frankly, all that time and all that energy and all that worry, is a waste because nobody cares about you, right? Okay, so relax and be cool. So that is this pencil and I've shown you these other pencils. Let me see what else we have. Also in the pencil category, I will include the crayon, right? Great tool. I have graduated from the crayon. I used to use these crayons a lot and I use them because they're all around the house because I have kids, they're everywhere. They look good on some papers and they don't work good on other papers. So on this paper here, it actually looks pretty good. I can't get a really, really dark color with this thing though, right? And this is just the regular Crayola. It happens to be a Jumbo Crayola. I like the big clunky tools. They just feel good in my hands. And remember I said I draw hard. So I snap crayons, wicked bad all the time, right? So instead of crayons, let me introduce you to something else that I'm gonna keep under the category of pencils, but it's not really a pencil. I hope you guys know this tool. It's kind of nice, I like that. I hope you guys know this tool. It's (indistinct) and it comes in a box that is super hard to open because it's taped shut that's why it's super hard to open. I tricked myself. Okay, so you can see they're already busted, right? Because I break them all the time, but you get really nice colors out of this. And what is this? Oh, this is another one. This is a paint pen. This is a similarly a oil pastel. Another nice, I would think this is more of a paint than a well, it's definitely more than a paint, it is paint. That is awesome, except the thing about these oil pastels. I love these colors, they're rich. You put it on your scanner. I mean, this stuff never dries. So you put it on your scanner and you gotta wash the scanner, but check that out. They smear beautifully, right? You can get these beautiful, beautiful marks out of it. That's the paint pen and then this is the (indistinct), which is basically a more of a watercolor. So you can thin these out. You can use a brush and go in and touch up after or make the colors a melange, like let them mix. So you can get these beautiful darks out of there that you really can't get out of some of the other pencils, and you see how they don't. These aren't mixing very well, but you get a beautiful nice steady line, out of these things. The only thing is you gotta make sure that your hands are clean 'cause I've gotten filthy hands now, which I don't mind, but clients kind of, they get weird about that stuff. In line with the Lyra big thick clunky pencils, are these, I love these. These are pencils for kids. It's difficult to see here, but I'll show you in drawing it. I have to sharpen it first. But this pencil draws in multiple colors. Let me show you that. Let me get it kind of sharp for you first. There we go. What I love about this, again, is the unexpected qualities. Meaning it's going to come out in colors that I can't control, but one thing I do that you'll notice and actually do it for all of the pencils, not the pens or markers or anything, is that I'm constantly spinning it in my hand when I'm drawing, right? So I can kind of, with this, I can constantly refresh which end I'm working on, right? So this one, these I love because they just come out in such beautiful colors. What should I write? Let me just write my name. So you can see this one writes in like blue and red. James Victore (laughs). So I have another one of these that writes in green and yellow. I just love these, I love these pens and I use this in work all the time. Speaking of using them in work, let me show you some samples of things that I've done and kind of how we got there, okay? So what I wanna show you now, is through this relationship I have with basic tools, super basic tools. Tablets are great, computers are awesome when they work, but there's something about making a mark with your hand that you just can't be. There's something about the hand eye coordination or lack of hand, eye coordination. Like I said, I don't really ever wanna get good at anything, right? So let me take you through a bunch of things that I've made with pencils literally, maybe a colored pencil or the rainbow pencil that draws in all different kinds of colors. And the first one thing I'm gonna show you, is actually no one's ever seen this before. This is from the archives. This is the original drawing for my racism poster I did when I was I think, six (laughs). It was a while ago. So there's a long story about how it came about and what the political and cultural and social situation in New York city was at the time. And which is the reason why making the poster, but it's literally, probably just a number two pencil that I drew, right? Here's the postcard version of the poster, the actual poster is behind my head there hanging up there. And it's literally every bit of it is just pencil. It's just happens to be blown up. It's originally this size, right? I used to make a postcard of every poster that I made and racism and the early ones, they were made before I was 30. And now they're in basically museums or literally around the world. This one has been shown twice at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. So lemme just drawn with a number two pencil. The other tool that I am not talking about and I am not showing here, is my copier, right? I have a big, huge standup copier that blows things up from down to 25% up to 400%. And I use it a lot in my work because I work, I generally tend to work small and then like to blow them up to gargantuan sizes. So what I did, is I took that little pencil drawing, and this is the original art that was sent to the printer. It was silk screen poster, two color silk screen. So it was literally, I could send this to the printer. What I did, is I blew it up from this tiny size to that size, again, another size that I'm comfortable working with. And then I used another pencil and I traced over the drawing and then just smudged it the way I had done earlier, right? When I was drawing little bombs, I just smudged it to maintain that, to give it kind of like that speed or that aggression or that flavor. And you can see what it looks like here in this and then also in the final printed part. To do the colored C in racism, I actually drew a second piece and this is with a very dark Ebony pencil, right? So I drew that and then just put it on my copier and blew it up a little bit, whatever it says, art do not touch. I don't listen to the rules, not even my own. Okay, so with pencils are all the, basically all the tools, I make marks, meaning I will scribble, or literally make marks or I'll do a drawings or I'll do a typography, okay? Let me show you an example of doing a drawing. So these are the actual two drawings that I did for a series of series of two, a set more of posters for a Japanese client. They made condoms. So this is the use a condom with the bugs and then use a condom with the bunnies. And it's literally, I went into a clip art book and found two different photos of bunnies. One was standing up like this and the other one was down looking for something and I just put them together (laughs). So they looked like they were kind of having fun and it's literally trace, I just traced the whole thing. I left it so you could see all the little bits, like you could see that it was a pencil drawing. I never try to remove the fact that a human being made this, a human being that is fulled made this, okay? I'm not interested in perfection. I think if this was beautifully rendered flat, I think it would lose a lot of charm, right? The way the flies work actually, is I had a photographer friend, his name is Bella Barsodi. He had actually taken a photograph of two flies having sex on his window cell. And I'm like, "Dude, can I just trace that?" And he said, "Yeah, put my name on the poster," which I did. So here in the actual poster, you can see that I literally just traced around where the letters would go. I left all the little, I didn't fill in all the holes, right? So you could just see the, and even where it was gray, we did a really good job scanning it to maintain. We had that gray value, right? It wasn't just flat. It takes a lot of work to make pencil look like pencil, right? And then we just signed it. And then there's a little, there's a goofy little condom on the page too. So that is the bugs and bunnies. And that was just an example of me drawing with a pencil. Another thing that I do with these tools, is typography. I like drawing letter forms. It makes me very happy. Here is a page from entrepreneur magazine. For a year, I had a column called resolutely difficult advice. And this was the beginning. This was actually the beginning of me writing "Feck Perfuction" because what I was doing was illustrating and writing a column in a magazine for a year. So I started building up all these ideas, but this is just like I was just doing before with the pencils, is just scribbling and drawing. You can see because I'm moving the pencil around, you can see the different widths that I'm getting in the lines here. And here, I smudging it to accent that idea of falling. So it says birds learn to fly by falling. It threw a little bird in there, get it, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, and then the article that went about it. So this would be an example of me drawing letter forms. Here's another example of drawing letter forms. This is from the New York Times. This is the New York Times magazine from a number of years ago. It was called Islam In The Bomb. And basically they gave me text and I just drew the entire text into this form. Not a completely original idea of having Text In A Bomb. I think there's a (indistinct) book cover, done like this as well. Not original, but it was what they wanted. The client said, "We want this." And I'm like, "Okay, I guess I can do it, right." But this is all I think you can see all the little goofy, little bits of details in here that trying to make it not to make it look perfect, not to make it look like a machine had made it, but again, a flawed human being. I think there's some more typography inside of the magazine, but I'll just stay with that. This is one of my favorite bits of pencil typography. This is the cover for my friend, David Hiut has a denim company, a jeans company in Wales called Hiut Denim, right? And he puts out a yearbook every year. So it's the Hiut Denim yearbook. Again, another idea that actually turned into a chapter of my book "Feck Perfuction," but it says your work is a gift. And the reason it has all this character to it, is that I did, all of this was just a pencil drawing, a smaller version of a pencil drawing, but then I blew it up on my copier again. And I wanted that kind of gritty character. And it says, your work is a gift, this is a radical idea. And then the rest of the article, is just finished on the back here, right? And I like the idea of circling words and underlining words, and making it feel like somebody has actually been there. And again, the copier has given it all this character. So now I'm going to show how I use the kind of these colored markers or crayons. So this is, I will have a number of examples of my work from a series of books that I am continually working for this publisher. It's called The Do Books. Again, they're out of the UK and they're associated with David Hiut's company. And the lectures called the Do Lectures in Wales. So I've done the entire series of these covers and they're all on these very simple ideas about doing something. And this one is on do grow. So it was about 10 simple vegetables. And whenever you have a book that's about gardening or vegetables, on the cover, you see vegetables, it might be one plant, or it might be multiple plants. Mine does too. I thought the idea of just having a simple sprig of green that said vegetable, that said grass, that said grow, right? So here it is in the original green. And then it became a little bit more lush. In the final, I just wanted a little bit more of a vegetable color and not, I don't know, like more of a yellow, green, right? So that is an example of what I would do really straightforward, like from farm to table literally, right. Just making a simple goofy mark and having it show up on the cover, and making it feel like I went into the point, into the bookstore and went and marked it, okay? Do Books, great series of books. If you want to go look for them, they're just called the Do Books. Super series of books. And finally, I want to, well, I guess there's two pieces here I want to show. This was talking about the pencils that, this one does the red and blue, then there's this one here that does green and blue and yellow, right? And I just wrote out on a very smooth little piece of valem, it says, "Habits are human nature. Why not create some that will mint gold?" And the author's name is Hafez, he's a Persian poet. I love this bit of poetry comes up a lot in my work and in my teaching. I used two of those colorful pencils, one to do the main typography and the other one that does orange and yellow to do the gold here. And you can see that there was some cleaning of the pan or practicing on the side of the page. And where this shows up, is actually, and you can see this is actually a bit large because working with this pencil, I can't do small. It will only, I can't do a poster with this thing, 'cause it would take forever. And I can't do a postered stamp, but this size typography feels good. And the way that showed up, was in my book, "Feck Perfuction" as this page, this spread, right? So this is what the final look like from this. And you can see that the colors traveled a little bit and that never concerns me. Like I'm not gonna kill myself or a printer to come up to make it 100% accurate, right? I don't want it to look bad or I don't want this to look gray, but when I saw this, I was like, "Oh, this is great, I love it, I love it, love it." And then I went back to the drawing a year later, I found this and I was like, "Oh, that's interesting." Doesn't kill me, okay? And remember whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Okay, so let's get rid of this piece. And there's one final piece from the old book that I wanna show you. And it is this piece that I love very much and this is just a pencil drawing, right? So it's just a pencil drawing, it was actually from a statue. It was a book of statues that I had. So I open up the book of statues. It's on tracing paper 'cause I put the paper over the statue and I just sat for 15 minutes and five minutes. I don't even know how long it took and just kind of traced and got it to a certain area, right? And it shows up in the book, let me find that guy, there it is. So it's in here and the idea is Judge not, it's the illustration for Judge Not, which is an article about judging your work or judging yourself worth or judging yourself, right? And the idea is that somebody started to make a drawing that they thought was gonna be pretty. And then they got frustrated and just kind of like took up a marker and just went ra, ra, right? So I just literally just did that, just smudged it with the marker. And I love how the marker picks up the pen, picks up the pencil bits and picks up a little bit of the carbon, and it just ends up being a really lovely image. And you can see here where I was kind of testing the pen out before I started doing it. So that is pencils, pretty much everything I know about pencils and how I use them and what I've done with them. It's a super basic tool, but it comes in handy all the time. I use it all the time and I hope you guys can start trying some stuff out. Grab some pencils, take them with you all the time, live with them. Don't take them to bed, not cool. But try these things, try sharpening them to yourself. Don't rely on the mechanical stuff all the time, okay? Definitely try playing and getting out a little bit more and messing around, and seeing what the rudimentary tools can do for you and try smudging them, and try mixing them, try everything, okay? There will be homework. So I hope you paid attention. There'll be a test, I'm kidding. I love you and I'll talk to you in the next chapter, thanks. Oh, oh, oh, oh. One last thing, one last thing. So there is an assignment (laughs) and the assignment is go to the drug store. Don't even go to an art store, go to the drug store, see what you can find, go to the grocery store. They got that aisle of like stationary, right? Get some, see if you have get the fat pens or some simple pencil, right? And get a cheapy, these are like mole skins. I buy a ton of them at a time. Don't get anything precious. You do not have to spend money. You don't have to plug it in. You don't have to charge the battery, right? And just fill it up intentionally with nothing, with scribbles, just play, right? The whole idea to do this entire class, is just to free us up, to get to the point where we can draw as freely as my four year old daughter, right? She went through one of these with a pen and she just like did that on every single page and it was delightful, okay? So go play, go have fun. And I'll talk to you later, bye. (upbeat music)

Ratings and Reviews

Lucy McConville

What a great class! This guy is so REAL, and clearly so excited by what he gets to do for a living! His examples of what can be achieved with simple tools are very inspiring. Mostly, it was his attitude toward creating, and life in general, that truly lifted me up! Yeah, Man, we can use more of that these days! Thanks James!

Linda Ryan

Wonderful reminder of the "power of the pencil"! I have been drawing since age 3 (maybe 4). I would watch Howdy Doodie try to draw the characters.... and guess what pencil I was given....the old 2HB. Thanks for the reminder. :))


Victore helped me to let perfection go and just listen to the words coming from my heart. This course encouraged me to start my book artwork right after finishing this course.

Student Work