Lately, I've been working on my drawing skills. I have been drawing for years, since as far back as I can remember, really. I used to draw all of the time, but about ten years ago, knitting took over my life. As a nasty case of carpal tunnel has stopped me from knitting, I have turned back to other artistic pursuits, and recently began drawing again more seriously. I began by using an old set of Derwent Graphic pencils (H - 9B), but found that I was fighting against smudging, graphite shine, and a lack of depth (due to an inability to create a true black with graphite). After some great advice from other artists, and studying some portrait instruction texts, I switched to primarily using charcoal pencils. I still use a graphite mechanical pencil to do the layout sketch, and some of the eye detail, but the rest is done with charcoal pencils, which give greater depth and impact than graphite.
Here is a pic of the tools that I use. I find that I sharpen my pencils frequently, or I use a foam sanding block to sharpen the tips (not shown here). You can pick up foam sanding blocks from any hardware store. Mine was ~ 1.5" thick x 3" wide, and I can't remember how long it was, but I cut it down to approx 1.5" long. I also use a regular Ziploc sandwich bag to catch the pencil and charcoal shavings.
This picture is of Mikael Blomkvist (as played by Daniel Craig), from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This is a WIP that will include a profile of Lisbeth Salander (as played by Rooney Mara), and is from the movie poster.
For these portraits, the layout sketching, and the iris detail was done with the mechanical pencil (HB graphite), the light portions were mostly done using the General's Charcoal HB-hard, while the darker portions were done using the range of Primo Charcoal pencils. The darkest parts were achieved with the Derwent Charcoal -Dark pencil.
I always use a spray-on Workable Fixative to keep my work from smudging, and I also place paper towel over the finished portions while I am working on other parts of the image to prevent hand-smudging.
For info on pencils, and techniques for portrait drawing, check out J.D. Hillberry. He's pretty commercial, and I don't always like his subjects, and composition, but his book and youtube videos have some good info on realistic drawing techniques.