Graphite is part of every artist’s toolbox. It’s a very affordable and commonly used medium, yet if used on its own in the hands of a skilled artist, it can produce breathtaking works of art. The lead in graphite pencils is made from a natural rock that is mined. In fact, graphite and diamonds are the only two forms of carbon polymers occurring in nature.
In Bluprint’s FREE mini-class Figure Drawing Atelier, instructor Patricia Watwood provides step-by-step instruction on how to use a graphite pencil to create an accurate outline for any figure, plus many more tips for creating striking figure studies. Sign up for free today.
Graphite on paper close-up
Eager to give graphite drawing a try? Here are 5 tips for drawing with graphite:
4B Pencil crosshatching before and after blending
1. Keeping your drawings clean
Graphite drawings can easily get messy, so it’s always a good idea to use something, like a sheet of paper under your hand, to avoid smudging your drawing. You can also try to work from left to right if you are right-handed or right to left if you are left- handed to minimize the risk of having your hand going over an already drawn area.
Even if you just washed your hands, there is always a tiny residue of oil on your skin that might go onto the paper and make the graphite more difficult to remove. For that reason, you might want to avoid blending with your finger. Experiment with different materials — tissue paper or cotton swabs work well for that purpose as well as stumps.
Don’t throw away your stumps when they are dirty, as they can be used to apply a light layer of graphite.
2. Using the right pencil grade
Pencils have different grades ranging from 9H to 9B. H stands for hardness and B for blackness, so a 9H pencil will be very hard and light, and a 9B pencil will be very soft and black.
Harder pencils are easier to erase but more difficult to blend. Harder pencils are sharp and can be used for details. Use HB for midtones, H for highlights and B for darker tones.
Try to get a wide array of tones on your drawing ranging from very light to very dark. A true black is difficult to obtain with graphite because when the paper is saturated with graphite, it will glare. You can use charcoal in your pencil drawings to obtain a real black.
Using poster putty as an eraser
The more times you apply the putty on the paper the more graphite you will lift off.
Erasers are a very convenient tool when drawing with graphite. They can be used to erase mistakes or to carve out lighter areas in an already drawn area in subtractive drawing techniques.
Kneadable erasers are great because they can be shaped in a fine point and won’t leave any residue. Poster putty can be used the same way you would use a kneadable eraser, except it is a little bit more sticky. It works well to gradually remove graphite — each time you use it on the paper, it will remove a bit more graphite, gradually lightening the area without damaging the paper.
Lines are very prominent in this life drawing by Sandrine Pelissier
It can seem a bit of a paradox when drawing with graphite, as we often think about drawing in terms of lines, but lines do not exist in nature — variations in tones and textures are what are delimiting the objects, so if you want to draw in a photorealistic style, it helps to think in terms of light and shade and not in terms of lines.
Of course, it all depends on the drawing style you want to achieve. I personally like the beauty of contour lines in a drawing, especially when the lines have some variety in thickness.
In this drawing by Albrecht Dürer, the cross hatching is following the shapes of the body.
5. Shading and cross hatching
If you are using cross hatching for shading, your drawing will have a more believable volume if your cross hatching follows the shape of the object. This being said, it all depends on the style you want to achieve. A cross hatching going all in the same direction on a drawing can add an interesting effect.