Graphite and pencils revisited

Ink, specifically a fountain pen, is my go-to sketching implement. My first sketches were with Rapidograph and Micron pens, no watercolor and rarely any pencil. Over the years the Rapidograph was retired as being too difficult to keep clean and operating, likely due to my ignorance about the perils of India Ink’s carbon particles ability to clog, as well as my inherent laziness. Micron was a constant companion, still is, yet it is the fountain pens that get the most use. Until recently I only used pencil to lay out complex perspective sketches. However – reading a biography of Van Gogh, who did a lot of pencil work, and the influence of my artist friend, Mary, I started playing with pencil a bit with some extremely satisfying results.

For ink and watercolor folks pencil is usually relegated to preliminary sketching or layout, what I have been doing is making the graphite just as prominent as the watercolor or ink. Here are two examples.

For this sketch, in a small Stillman & Birn sketchbook at the Salish Sea Brewing Company, I used a Cretacolor 5.6mm lead holder with 2B lead. I did the entire sketch with the pencil, no ink, and more than just an outline, there is shading etc. That was followed with a light watercolor wash, which allowed the graphite to enhance the watercolor. I did just a bit of touch up with the pencil after the paint dried, pretty much enhancing the stool between the two, and a bit on one of the sweatshirt hoods.

The Cretacolor holder is quickly becoming my first grab for a quick sketch – especially people. I used it at the Portland Art Museum for a quick sketch of one of the rooms.

For this sketch, again at a brewery, I used a regular pencil. (OK, yes, I like breweries, how can you beat good beer, interesting people and objects to sketch.) There was a lot of detail so a finer point was in order. One decision that you must make is how much detail to include, and there is no right answer. Each artist will have their own level, and I find it is a broad spectrum. There are times I love the detail, and other times just broad generalities.

Note that there is not quite as much pencil showing through as in the first sketch. My primary objective was to get some of the perspective right. In the past I would often use pencil first, then do the sketch in pen, then erase the pencil lines, then wash with watercolor. This time I went from the pencil to the watercolor, let it dry, then used ink for the details. The pencil lines do show a bit and I do like the added highlights they provide. Note – fountain pens don’t work well for this as the ink tends to spread a bit on the watercolor, a Micron works better.

So dig out pencil and experiment, would love to see what you come up with.

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