Friday, November 10, 2017

Reflecting on Water-Soluble Graphite

11/9/17 water-soluble graphite, Canson XL 140 lb. watercolor paper
Last spring when my colored pencil class made the transition from traditional colored pencils to water-soluble, I had some eye-opening revelations immediately. This week in my graphite class, we made a similar transition: Our lesson was in using water-soluble graphite. With the learnings still under my belt from watercolor pencils, I didn’t have quite as big a leap to make this time with graphite. Nonetheless, as soon as water is introduced as part of the mix, everything is more unpredictable, and when I make the paper wet, I have to think and act faster.

Like their colored counterparts, water-soluble graphite pencils become more intense as soon as water is applied, so it’s easier to achieve a rich, dark value. Also similar to watercolor pencils, water-soluble graphite can be erased while it’s dry, but when water is applied and then dried, the graphite becomes permanent. That means I can continue to apply more graphite over the dried layer beneath.

In working on this week’s homework assignment based on Suzanne’s photo, I confirmed the same thing I learned with watercolor pencils: The graphite can be applied much more quickly and with less care where I know water will be applied because most of the pencil strokes will not show in the final work. As I’d expect, the brushwork becomes more critical than the pencil strokes. I also realized that while water can melt away messy pencil strokes, it also takes away any intended texture, so if I want texture, I have to add it afterwards and leave it dry.

Reference photo by Suzanne Brooker
Although I’m not completely happy with the way this assignment turned out – I lost a lot of the mid-range values, and those lower trees are less defined than I had intended – I’m looking forward to adding water-soluble graphite to my sketch bag. I can tell already that it’s got a lot of potential for sketching on location – fast, rich and expressive. I like it! 

As you might guess, I didn’t have to buy anything new when Suzanne told us we would be needing a water-soluble pencil this week; I already owned several. In class I experimented with a Cretacolor, a Faber-Castell and a Caran d’Ache, but my hands-down favorite is a Viarco ArtGraf. I used both a 2B and 6B for this assignment, but I have to say that I don’t see much difference between the grades. I think the 6B alone provides a full range of values with soft, rich graphite, and a dab of water can make it come to life. You’ll be seeing more of this pencil when the gloomy grays take over this winter.


  1. I think you got beautiful texture in the trees. Nicely done!!!

  2. The sketch is great! I like the effect.

  3. Thank you, Joan and Ching! I'm optimistic about this as a sketching tool!

  4. Oh well, back to the art shop. As always thanks so much for the information and the inspiration.


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