Saturday, August 18, 2018

Analog and Digital

8/13/18 Green Lake (graphite)

When my niece was young and studying both piano and violin, her father (my brother, an engineer) made an interesting observation. He said that while piano is digital (discrete units expressed in a scale), violin is analog (a continuous physical variable). It’s an intriguing metaphor that has stayed with me.

8/9/18 Summit & Boren (fountain pen and Pitt marker)
You know how fickle I am about my sketching materials. My first several years, I used ink line and watercolor. The past few years, “mixed media” has been the only accurate term for what I use. In a single sketch, I might use colored pencils, ink, Pitt markers and a brush pen together. It’s not so much that I want to use so many things at once. It’s more that certain media do things faster or more easily than others, so I grab the tool that gets the job done for the subject matter I’ve chosen or the length of time I have.

Having sketched with a wide variety of materials, I recently started thinking about the difference between “digital” art media (and here I’m using the term metaphorically, not in reference to iPad sketching) and analog media. Markers (like my favorite Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens) strike me as very digital tools – either on or off. When you make a mark with one, it’s a solid, discrete unit (like 1 or 0). Once put in place, it will not change. Unless you have fast fingertips like Don Colley, who can smear Pitt ink quickly enough before it dries that it can blend or have a slight gradation, marker marks tend to look streaky. Markers come in handy when I want a flat, solid surface, like shading the side of a building. But without Don’s fingers, I find it almost impossible to give soft, rounded shading to a person’s face, for example, with a Pitt.

The past couple of years as I’ve gotten to know colored pencils and graphite pencils better, I have come to realize that what I love most about both is their potential for endless, seamless gradation. They are the quintessential analog material. If you look at a pencil mark under a microscope, you’ll see that it’s made of a bunch of particles of varying sizes that adhere to the paper’s surface. The mark is a continuous physical variable, like a violin note. By smudging or applying more, a pencil mark can be changed almost indefinitely. Maybe it’s just my training in landscape drawing (with Suzanne Brooker at Gage) that influences this opinion, but pencils seem to be made for soft or organic subject matter.


  1. I love your graphite sketch of the lake! Is there a way to incorporate just a hint of color into these sketches? Just musing out loud I guess!

  2. I too love this sketch, but am intrigued by Cathy's musing. Would it work with Derwent Graphitint pencils (used dry) which have a little pigment as well as graphite and are very soft on the right paper?

  3. Cathy and Dory: As you might guess (knowing what a color junkie I am!), I have been thinking a lot about how I might somehow put a bit of color into the graphite sketches. I tried it just a bit the other day (the flowers in one sketch here:, but I feel the color has to go directly on clean white paper -- any graphite underneath really muddies it. I hadn't thought of Graphitint pencils, though (which, of course, I have! ;-) ). Hmmm. . . Interesting, indeed. Thanks for the ideas! Stay tuned! :-)


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