|LEARN TO SEE, LEARN TO DRAW PART 2
Photo-Realistic Graphite Pencil Art - "Tools of the Trade"
By Richard Brown
Drawing is the fundamental basis for all types of artistic works.
Sculpture, painting, and architecture amongst other visual arts
use drawing as the initial medium to conceptualize and understand
the various components that will work together in the final project.
And of course drawing can be an end onto itself. Graphite pencil
drawing is my passion, and in my opinion, a fine art.
And art, like music or dance, is all about the partnership between personal
vision and technical ability. These two partners
must work together or the dance will end. I will address
the skill side of this partnership, since you are ultimately responsible
for your personal vision.
I hope that the opinions that I share with you will help you to evaluate
and assess the various drawing tools that are available. But I also
am convinced that you must be prepared to experiment with all kinds
of materials in order to determine which tools work best for you.
materials don't have to be your materials, but you must know your
The Paper Chase
The type of paper that you select for your work will influence the
result of your project more than any other tool that I will discuss.
Consider paper to be the foundation of your drawing and make the
selection with care. There is nothing worse than fighting with your
paper, because you will always lose.
Paper is described with a term called tooth. Tooth defines the texture
on the surface of the paper. A rough texture (tooth) paper can be
advantageous when drawing something with texture, or can be beneficial
for a dark drawing where you wish to hold more graphite. A smooth
texture paper is better for producing fine detail work. And pay
attention to both surfaces of the paper, since the tooth is sometimes
only on the top surface.
Most papers are made from either wood pulp or cotton fibers. Your best
choice for drawing purposes is to use papers that are identified
as "acid free". A drawing on acid free paper should outlast
you and your descendants with no appreciable yellowing, staining,
White papers are most commonly used, and in fact are my preference. But
you can use colored papers for special effects. Graphite on gray
or buff paper can be quite beautiful.
Another drawing surface popular with artists is coated paper. This is a
paper with a thin coating of clay. Scratching through the layer
to expose white underneath is a way to achieve sharp accents and
Paper mounted on cardboard is called illustration board. These boards
may be nice to use because they are stiffer than flimsy paper, but
be sure to verify that the backing is also in fact acid-free.
Paper is measured by weight per ream (480 sheets). This weight indirectly
relates to the paper thickness
a 200-pound paper is thicker
than a 60-pound paper for example. As for formats, fine art paper
comes in a variety of sizes, the most popular being 9x12, 11x14,
14x17 and 19x24.
Bristol paper, or bristol board, is made from two or more layers of paper
bonded together to make a thick sheet. It has a smooth surface ideal
for fine line drawing. I have had great success with 100-pound 14x17
Strathmore Bristol Vellum 300 Series. I like the stiffness of the
paper, which means that it is resistant to creasing. And I like
the body of the paper
I can work it without fear of damaging
the integrity of the surface.
Sounds Like Something They do at Customs
One way to protect the paper surface of your drawing until you are
ready to work on it, is to use a material called frisket. This is
a transparent film that will mask off areas that you want to keep
white while you work on adjacent portions of the drawing. In my
experience, frisket will leave an adhesive residue on the paper
after you remove it (and adhesive and graphite just don't mix),
so I restrict it's usage to the border of my drawing. I typically
use this material to frame the image. I create a frame of this material
so that the graphite does not smear onto the paper beyond the working
area, and when I peel away the frisket
a nice clean white border around the drawing.
2B or NOT2B
You can draw with anything
in fact, you can draw with anything
that makes a mark on paper. There are many choices for drawing materials
including charcoal, Conte, pastel, and carbon pencils
probably the simplest and most versatile medium to use is the graphite
pencil. Using just pencil and paper and very little else, you can
render almost any subject imaginable.
Graphite pencils are available in soft, medium and hard leads. They are graded
from 10H (very hard) to 10B (extremely soft)
and in the middle
is the HB grade. Pencils in the H series make fine, hard gray marks.
B pencils make a rich, dark line. Think of H for hardness and B
By the way, lead is a misnomer for graphite pencils. Pencils were initially
known as black lead (which is somewhat misleading since lead is
a metallic element). Graphite is actually a form of pure carbon
The proportions of graphite and clay in a pencil determine how hard
the lead is and how dark a mark it will make. The more graphite,
the softer the lead and the darker the mark.
There are several manufacturers of graphite pencils. And there are subtle
differences in the product that don't become apparent until they
are used. Some pencils have more graphite and glide across the paper,
while other pencils are more dry and tend to crumble across the
paper. At the end of the day, this is a personal choice and there
is no right answer.
But it is a good idea to decide on a brand and then stick with it so
that you become familiar with what to expect from a given grade
of pencil (I must admit that I prefer and only use the Staedtler
Mars Lumograph product).
Here are some of the principal manufacturers of graphite pencils
Cumberland United Kingdom
General United States
Berol United States
Although you can complete a drawing with a single grade of pencil, such as
HB, you will not achieve the tonal range essential to photo-realism.
I tend to use 2B to lay down a foundation of value. Then I build
up the drawing in layers with the harder grades such as B, HB, and
even H. If I wish to convey atmospheric perspective in the form
of a soft, hazy background, I will use a very soft graphite such
as 6B or even 8B.
In other words, I tend to use 2B as an all-purpose lead
I use NOT2B for everything else. I use harder leads such as HB and
H to develop texture and detail
and I will use a 6B to 8B
to convey either a blackest black, or a soft background.
I Would Like to Make a Point
Another tool that is useful, particularly for detail, is the lead
pointer, or drafting pencil. I do not refer to the mechanical pencil
that cannot be sharpened. I refer to the lead holder that can develop
a very sharp point using a lead pointer
speak to any draughtsman
that used this equipment before the advent of CADD systems
they will know what I speak of. And typically H through 2B grades
of graphite are available to use with this device.
I find this tool essential for outlining any lettering in a drawing.
To Err is Human
To Erase is Divine
Erasers provide artists with a wide creative margin in which to
work. An eraser can be used to clean an area, blend a stroke, or
place light markings on a dark value. In other words an eraser is
not just a means of correcting mistakes
it is also a very
effective drawing tool.
In selecting an eraser, pick one that will be kind to your paper. Too
much scrubbing can form a resist on the surface of the paper. I
recommend using white plastic erasers for that reason. I use (3)
a white block is used for general cleanup
large mechanical eraser is used for broad strokes
and a small
mechanical eraser is used for detail.
Erasers will pickup graphite
after all, that is why we use them
and should be cleaned periodically as you use them, so that you
don't reapply and smear graphite onto your drawing. I clean them
by abrading the used surface with sandpaper, or a metal nail file.
Kneadable erasers start out as neat and dignified squares, but quickly resemble
a wad of chewing gum after continued use. They are "clean"
erasers and are very useful in the sense that graphite can be lifted
from the surface of the paper, rather than smeared with a plastic
eraser. I use a kneadable eraser and dab the drawing to lighten
tonal value without losing the overall detail. As Martha would say
this is a good thing.
Please don't use a PinkPearl eraser
it will damage the paper, leave
a pink smudge or stain, and in the process, destroy all your hard
work. Consider this fair warning.
Paper stumps in various diameters are used for blending and shading
graphite. Stumps are made of tightly rolled paper, with tapered
ends. A tortillon is a fancy French name for a similar tool that
has a point at only one end
but serves the same purpose.
I prefer the stump because it has a smooth, dense, surface.
Although I tend to use stumps only, there are other media that can be used
to the same effect. Sheets of felt, paper towel, and even chamois
will create different textures. I just prefer the control that can
be achieved with a stump, relative to these other materials.
Patience is a Virtue
I think this may be the most underrated tool in your studio. You
won't achieve photo-realism in a few hours, so don't expect instant
The Finishing Touch
The best way to preserve a drawing is to spray the surface with
a fixative, which binds the graphite particles to the paper. This
product is available as an aerosol spray that will give an even
transparent coat over the drawing. One bit of advice for you
inspect your work thoroughly before you spray it
spray it, you own it. Make sure that you have erased any smudges
and extraneous lines before you spray. You can always add graphite
to the sprayed surface, but it is almost impossible to remove graphite
after it has been sprayed.
I use Krylon Crystal Clear spray coating.
My Quest for the Holy Grail
Someday, God willing, I will find the perfect pencil sharpener and
the perfect eraser. At that point, I will consider my life to be
The Bottom Line
Learn by doing.
In my opinion, experience is the best teacher, and all my comments
aside, you must evaluate these materials (and others) for yourself
that is the bottom line.
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