Sunday, December 17, 2023

Messing Around with Viarco ArtGraf Water-Soluble Graphite (Tin)


ArtGraf in pan form -- another Viarco surprise (Earthsworld reference photo)

In my “messing around” series, I use a product new to me that I know little about and then show the evidence of my mess accompanied by a few uninformed opinions. I don’t consider this a product review.

Viarco, the small Portuguese pencil manufacturer, sure is full of surprises. I’ve known and loved for years the ArtGraf pencil, still my favorite water-soluble graphite pencil. After owning some for years, I finally started messing around recently with the “tailor shape” blocks of water-soluble color, which have exciting potential that I haven’t fully explored yet. And now I’m messing around with another item that I had put into my Viarco order without knowing much about it: ArtGraf water-soluble graphite that comes in a small tin (I have the 20-gram tin; a 60-gram tin is also available). Somehow, though, I had a hunch it might be fun.

Once again, I think this is a unique product that is different from any other water-soluble graphite or graphite-like product. It wets easily like watercolor, but it doesn’t flow like watercolor. Instead of glazing, it layers more like, well, like a graphite pencil – but in a wet way! It’s hard to describe and nothing like anything else I’ve used. It also takes some getting used to, and I’m still learning.

I first mentioned this product briefly in my post about the “drawing with paint” technique that I had learned from Steve Mitchell’s The Mind of Watercolor videos. ArtGraf in this tinned form is an ideal material for this technique because of its ability to build in tone, just like graphite. This Earthsworld portrait is another attempt at the “drawing” technique.

11/28/23 ArtGraf in Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook

At Drawing Jam a couple weeks ago, I brought the usual supplies I bring everywhere, but on a whim, I brought along the tin of ArtGraf. It turned out to be the material I used most because of its simplicity. Using the tin lid as my “mixing” palette to dilute the graphite as needed, all I needed was a waterbrush to “paint” quick life-drawing gestures (rusty as they were). Sometimes I paired it with an ArtGraf pencil to help define shapes.

12/2/23 Drawing Jam: Ideal for quick life-drawing gestures

One evening I dared to challenge myself by sketching a white animal on a mostly white background: I found a lovely image of an Arctic fox (reference photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash) irresistibly backlit. I ended up overworking it a bit trying to increase the contrast so that the backlighting fringing the fox would show, but I still enjoyed using ArtGraf for it (I also used a Blackwing pencil to define the fur’s texture a little). You can see where I had trouble getting a smooth background on the right side of the fox, but I think I just need more practice getting used to the way it flows (or doesn’t).

12/11/23 ArtGraf and graphite pencil in Hahnemuhle sketchbook (Jonatan Pie reference photo)

Finally, the sketch I had the most fun with was the kitty named Tucker that I drew on the cover of a Field Notes notebook (photo by Tucker’s human Grant Klein). I hadn’t tested ArtGraf on this cover stock, so I had my doubts about whether it would hold up, but surprise, surprise – it not only held up, I was able to tone the kitty wet-in-wet! Maybe because it’s a small area, the ArtGraf flowed beautifully and easily on the background behind Tucker with a nice granulated finish.

12/11/23 ArtGraf, Polychromos colored pencils on Field Notes cover

Once again, I’m thrilled by the potential of this product – which I’ve only barely touched.


  1. Ah...I wish I had added it to my Blick order for Christmas. You got really nice results with it...especially that kitten.

    1. Thanks! I'm really happy with the way the kitty came out!


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