Let's talk pencil sharpeners for artists...
The recommended pencil sharpener (Staples Heavy Duty Sharpener) is a beast... it's great because it sharpens pencils quickly, and is relatively easy to unjam, however it is not easily available outside of North America.
Unfortunately not everyone can easily get to Staples, or have one delivered to their house. Here are some alternatives from students as well as tips and tricks for getting razor sharp pencils to work with and let's find the best pencil sharpener for artists like you.
Electric Pencil Sharpeners for Artists
For students working through the Evolve Artist program, you will be going through a lot of pencils and because of this we recommend an electric sharpener. Depending on where you live in the world different sharpeners will be available to you.
Pros - fast, effective
Cons - expensive, can break, can jam, eats pencils
RECOMMENDED: Staples Heavy Duty (US / Canada)
The best pencil sharpener for artists that Evolve recommends is the Staples heavy Duty. This is the same sharpener Kevin uses in his studio where thousands of pencils are sharpened each week. When purchasing this sharpener we recommend to get the extended warranty so if anything happens, you will easily be able to get a replacement. The reason this is the sharpener of choice is it's fast, easy to clean, and relatively easy to unjam when a lead breaks off inside.
The down side with this sharpener it is not widely available outside of North America - keep reading for other alternatives.
Help! My Staples Sharpener Suddenly Died!
If you've hardly been using your sharpener and it suddenly just won't work, sometimes the tray needs to be pulled out a tiny bit to engage the motor. To do this, simply put a pencil in the sharpener and slowly pull the tray outward and with a little luck the sharpener will turn on. And yes, even the recommended best pencil sharpener for artists can jam up.
WARNING! If you do end up ordering one of these pencil sharpeners for artists from America, keep in mind the voltage difference between your country and the USA. Using the wrong voltage will overload the sharpener and cause it to smoke, and possibly catch on fire.
We do not recommend importing the Staples sharpener to another country, and instead recommend that you find a local replacement that will do the trick. Almost every sharpener students have tried has worked well to give them long, sharp points.
Paper Pro Sharpener (UK)
This electric pencil sharpener is available in the UK and does the trick to deliver long, sharp points on the pencils.
TIP: If you are looking for this, or any of the other sharpeners on this page, do check the following resources:
- Local Art Stores / Local Art Websites
Old School Pencil Sharpeners
There is absolutely nothing wrong with old-school sharpeners and is a great option for those who can't get their hands on our recommended best pencil sharpener for artists, the Staples Heavy Duty. The thing to look out for is that the sharpeners give you a long, extremely sharp point. As long as you have that, you're good to go!
Pros - cheap, reliable, effective
Cons - time consuming + slow (you will be sharpening a lot)
The Hand Crank
Many locations sell this classic hand crank sharpener, and you can get other hand cranks that will fix themselves to your desk for easier operation.
Here's what Erik I. had to say:
"Hey guys 🙂 I couldn't get the Staples sharpener in Germany so I was looking for alternatives. I've found a hand sharpener that makes a great point and has also got a button to release broken ends that are stuck".
The Old School Original Pencil Sharpeners for Artists
There's nothing wrong with going absolutely back to basics with this classic 2-hole hand pencil sharpener available in both plastic and metal. Students like these sharpeners because they are very efficient, very inexpensive and you can always see how sharp your pencil is while sharpening.
Cleaning Your Sharpener
This especially applies to the Staples sharpener, but any electric sharpener you have should be regularly cleaned. There will be a compartment that holds the pencil shavings, but DO NOT WAIT UNTIL IT IS FULL to empty it.
If you wait too long the shavings can get backed up into the gears of your electric motor and will kill your sharpener.
Should You Take Your Sharpener Apart?!
In general, this is a horrible idea unless you are knowledgeable in fixing electronics. One student found this out the hard way after the sharpener quit working.
Unfortunately she was unable to put her sharpener back together and get it working. Causes for the sharpener to quit working are that the tray hasn't been regularly cleaned (see above) or the tray needs to be nudged (see below)
Clearing a Broken Lead
The lead of your pencil will break off from time to time and get stuck in the sharpener. Here are three tricks to solve this:
Option #1 - Switch Pencils
Simply use a cheap, standard HB pencil and sharpen that pencil to clear out the lead. Once it's cleared, you can go back to sharpening your charcoal pencils.
Option #2 - The Pen Trick:
NOTE: Always UNPLUG your sharpener before trying to clear the lead with a foreign object.
Susan R. Says: "My tactic for my mechanical pencil sharpener is to use a clicky pen. Jam it in and then click the pen down. It usually breaks the charcoal and the stuck point tips out easily".
Option #2 - The Vacuum Trick:
Daniel G. says: "I've found a way to unjam safely if a pencil end breaks off and jams the sharpener":
- Get out my vacuum with a tube/wand extension (as seen in the picture)
- Hold the sharpener vertically with the vacuum extension aligned to the hole the pencil would go in
- Turn the vacuum on which will suck out the pencil tip.
- That's it!
"So far this has removed the broken pencil tip from the sharpener every time".
IMPORTANT: Wasting Pencils
In order to get a feeling for the sharpener, try to sharpen your pencils using the lightest touch possible so you are only sharpening the bare minimum needed to get a sharp point. If you're like most Evolve students it's probably been a long time since you thought about sharpening pencils and generally all you need is the slightest touch in an electric sharpener to get back to a razor sharp point.
Using Pencil Extenders
Using extenders can get you a lot more life out of your pencils by sharpening them to the very last bit.
Take a look at how much pencil Evolve student, Suzanne was able to use by employing extenders and a Helix Manual Sharpener (UK).
Warranties on Electric Pencil Sharpeners
These sharpeners are not cheap - make sure to check the warranty on them and if possible purchase an extended warranty. This way if anything happens to it, you can easily return and replace the sharpener.
Here's what one Evolve student had to say: "Even if you didn't purchase the extra warranty from Staples, call up the warranty place, seriously, I had a chair I needed parts for and they asked me when I bought it, that chair had a 5 year store warranty and they replaced the part for free, can't hurt to try".
The Best Pencil Sharpener for Artists Recommended by Country
Here are different sharpeners being used by Evolve students all over the world:
- Helix Metal Desktop Pencil Sharpener
- LINKYO Electric Pencil Sharpener with Automatic Smart Sensor for Kids
- X-ACTO ProX, Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener
- Staedtler: Handheld Metal Manual Pencil Sharpener
- Bostitch Quietsharp Glow Classroom Electric Pencil
- Pencilpro quiet glow
- Carl Angel-5
Final Thoughts on Our Recommended Best Pencil Sharpener for Artists:
The Staples Heavy Duty pencil sharpener is Evolve's overall recommendation as the best pencil sharpener for artists for its fast and effective use. If it's not within your budget or if it's not available in your country, an old school sharpener may do the trick but realize that you'll be spending more time on sharpening than on drawing.
If you've got a great sharpener you're loving and is giving you nice long, sharp pencils while working with the Evolve program, please leave a comment and let us know so this resource can be updated for other students in the program. We'd also love to hear what you think is your recommendation for the best pencil sharpener for artists!
A big thank you to all the students who have shared their experience so far!
**Edit - If you've been following us for a while now, you may have noticed that Evolve no longer includes charcoal drawing as part of the coursework solely because we wanted to concentrate on oil painting. For more information, please visit evolveartist.com!
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