Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Whole New Ballgame: Graphite

9/12/17 cloud study from photo reference (in progress)

I miss color already.

Yesterday I began a new 10-week drawing course, this time with graphite. From my informal studies of the masters and reading books on drawing, I have known for a long time that using a monochrome medium is one of the best ways to learn value and accurately modeling three-dimensional forms. To take a class focused on this type of drawing has been my goal. But while charcoal (yuck) drawing classes are offered regularly at Gage (and I’ve taken a pen and ink class), graphite pencil drawing is much harder to come by. So when Suzanne Brooker, my colored pencil class instructor last winter and spring, offered a private class to her former students, you can bet I was first to sign up!

Since all of us were in Suzanne’s colored pencil classes, we’re all starting with graphite from the same knowledge base, which makes it somewhat easier – we already understand the principles and some of the same techniques. However, I’m finding graphite to be a very different ballgame from colored pencils. For one thing, although we are drawing in monochrome, we are still using color photo references, and I’m finding it very challenging and sometimes confusing to convert colors to black and white values. I predict that this practice alone is going to be extremely valuable in training my eye to see values more accurately when sketching in the field.

Another game changer is something we learned right away: the eraser! I’ve used an eraser to replace highlights that I’ve inadvertently lost in a colored pencil or graphite sketch, but yesterday we used the eraser as one of our basic drawing tools – not just for errors. For the cloud drawing (above, still in progress), we first covered the entire composition area with a very pale layer of graphite. Then we went in afterwards with a kneaded eraser to put in the whitest white.

Mostly Mitsubishi Hi Unis with a Tombow and a Staedtler thrown in.
Learning about graphite pencil grades is also an eye opener. Suzanne recommended grades in the 3H to 6B range for the class (and of course I was thrilled that I could finally use my beautiful set of Mitsubishi Hi-Uni pencils). She had suggested a 2H for the pale first layer in the cloud drawing, but pencil manufacturers don’t use consistent grading, so I had to go all the way down to 4H in the Hi-Unis to get the same grade as her Staedtler 2H. 

I’m very much looking forward to learning all I can from this course (and, as before, I don’t enjoy drawing from photos, but I know that everything I learn can eventually be applied to on-location sketching, so that’s what motivates me). But I have to say, I sure miss color.


  1. Yes, no graphite in your list of favorite materials. (Smile) mine either.

    1. Graphite has its place, and I do love the soft gradations possible with graphite that would be much harder to achieve with other media. But you know I'm a color junkie. ;-)

  2. I love how you challenge yourself to try something new! Good for you!

  3. In Charles Reid's books he always talks about color values! He suggested squinting when trying to determine the value while looking at colors. I find it hard but practice does make you better :)

    1. I was squinting through this whole cloud drawing! I hope I get better at it!


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