I was going to post on the pencil sharpening discussion, but then realized I drifted too far apart from it.
The sharpening methods in that discussion are really great! I wish I would have heard of some of them a few decades ago.
So, how I approach drawing: I love pencils and drawing. I decided years ago to focus on control and strokes, and the craftsmanship aspects. So, everything had to get simplified so I could play to my strengths.
Mechanical pencils: I switched completely to mechanical pencils, .05 mm lead thickness, and work with only HB and 2B. Mainly 2B. With attention to pressure control, I can make dark enough and different enough marks to make me happy. Since I have used mechanical pencils my whole life, this was an easy decision. My goal was a particular outcome of drawing – a better product, and not the process or learning. Of course, I hoped to improve both my processes and learning along the way I very rarely do use other pencils, usually to make a very dark line, but never charcoal.
(I use this same mechanical pencil to draw out my paintings on the substrate and then just paint right on top of them. Clear, small lines, easy to see and easy to erase. If you keep your pressure light, you will not carve a groove in the primer.)
Padded drawing board: I also use a padded drawing board I made for just this purpose; use exclusively Rives BFK heavy printmaking paper, 100% cotton; and tape down the paper to the board around all the edges with blue painter’s low tack tape; and cover up with more paper the parts of the drawing I am not working on, to keep the surface clean. If I need to work on a different part of the paper, I just uncover a different part, or swivel the whole drawing board around. I have had the same cotton handkerchief for 40 years which is never washed. Different parts of it have different amounts of graphite embedded in it from years of smoothing drawings. Depending on how dark or light the mark I want to make, I will use a different part of the cloth.
Why padded drawing board: Rives BFK is a heavy but very soft surface. With a hard, unpadded board, it was a little too easy to inadvertently put too much pressure on the paper. I do not enjoy exploring different types of paper or different types of pencils. I take 3 sheets of cheaper drawing paper, not as soft as the Rives BFK, and tape them to the edges of the drawing board. I change the papers every few years when they get too dirty or get a compression line which will change the way the Rives paper on top of it will take pressure. I never use this board for anything but drawing. I designed it in the 1980s from hardboard with a cut out handle. It is simple and versatile. I have bigger boards arranged the same way for bigger stuff. It is sturdy enough to put on an easel without deforming.
Rives BFK 100% cotton paper: 270gsm, 29x41 inches, white. One may also buy a roll 300 gsm for really big drawings. Currently $155US. I have sheets purchased in the 1980s, stored in the dark, and they have not changed color or darkened. If you accidentally crease them, I think there is no way to uncrease that groove. It will permanently affect your mark-making. The cost of this type of mistake has inspired a zen-like concentration in me.
BTW, I also have cheap sketchbooks to work out values and compositions for both drawings and paintings, but don’t take exceptional care of these in terms of not smearing and so on. They are just workbooks.
I stop every 30 minutes or so to clean up the surface of the drawing, the padded board, my hands and arms and anything else likely to get smeared. I use brushes, kneaded erasers, and stiffer white erasers with a metal cut out guard. I really hate to accidentally smear something. I am a pigpen, but fortunately am also OCD.
Once I made the decision to simplify, my drawing skills really got better because no distractions or temptations to try different materials or products. I love my OCD.
Put your OCD to work for you!
I would love to read of how others approach drawing.