Exercise 1: Holding pens and pencils

Graded pencils

“Practise different ways of holding your pen or pencil to see how they affect the way you approach your drawing and what difference they make to the marks you make.”

Graded pencils (brand: Chiltern Woods): Precise, predictable, good for line, good for detail (especially the H grades), good for shading (especially the B grades). Shinier with firmer pressure applied, grew darker as I moved from the high H grades down through the softer B grades. Was surprised at how dark the H grades could be with increased pressure, but noted the dark tones of the B grades were much sootier and softer, making them particularly suitable for shading. The darkest B grades tended to crumble under pressure.  The B grades grew increasingly easier to smudge (found this out by accident on a sheet of notepaper).  All the pencils were easiest to control when held at the bottom end.  Held in the middle, at a more horizontal angle, they covered larger areas more easily.  Held at the top end, they were very hard to control – no good for precision, but could be a source of interesting unpredictable marks.

Graphite pencils and sticks

Graphite pencils (brand: Cretacolor Monolith): Similar to pencils, but with a slightly smoother quality.  Easier to get a broader stroke holding the pencil on it’s side, as it’s woodless – just pure graphite. Pleasing range of darker tones. Again, good for line, detail, and shading.  the darker/softer pencils were inclined to crumble under pressure.

Graphite sticks (brand: Lyra water-soluble): Tried a 2B and a 9B.  Both were thick chunky woodless sticks, which created dark lines and tones with ease.  Harder to achieve fine lines, as the sticks are broader, but may be able to do so by sharpening them with a scalpel.  However, not convinced this would be very worthwhile, as graphite pencils would suit the purpose better.  The highlight of these sticks for me was their water-solubility.  The effect, when washed, is very similar to an ink wash.  The advantage of using these over pen and ink would be that, until water is applied, the graphite would be able to be erased.  Especially pleasing on the darkest 9B tones.  Excellent material for creating shadow and tone.

Charcoal (compressed, willow, pencils)

Compressed charcoal: Broad dark sticks of compressed charcoal, particularly suited to building up tonal backgrounds or large expenses.  Able to vary the depth of tone depending on pressure applied.  Once smudged, can been drawn into with finer charcoal or putty rubber.  Not useful for fine detail, at least not for very long as the line would rapidly become blunt.  Quite brittle under pressure.  Good coverage.  Requires fixative.

Willow charcoal (medium & thick) (brand: Coates): Delightfully responsive and expressive medium.  With the medium sticks, it’s possible to work in relatively fine detail using a sharp edge,  however this edge disappears very quickly, needing to be cut or created again.  Used on it’s side, it is possible to build up fairly large areas which can then be smudged or left partly textural.  Interesting to note the difference between smudging in the direction the charcoal was applied (left to right), and smudging it downwards instead.  The former preserves the darkness more, whilst the latter creates a smokier, more ghostly effect.  Can be drawn into with a putty rubber.  Hard to control unless held near the bottom end of the stick.  Brittle.  Naturally describes the surface upon which one is working.  For example, when I was working on a large sheet of paper on my kitchen table, each slight dip and bump of the wood was apparent once I swept the charcoal across the paper.   Textural.  Requires fixative.  Excellent for creating tonal effects.

Charcoal pencils: Not as dark as I’d hoped.  However, being finer than the sticks, they are useful for working lines in more accurate detail.  Also less messy than the sticks of charcoal.  Respond similarly to ordinary graphite pencils (see above), depending on how and where the pencils are held.  Quite brittle.  Require fixative.

Pastels (hard, soft, oil, pencils)

Hard pastels (brand: Inscribe): Square sticks of colour, capable of creating lines when using the edge.  However, this edge soon becomes blunt. Used on it’s side, in a sweeping motion, it builds up large areas of colour, which are easy to snug and blend.  Brittle.  Responds to the grain of the paper used.  Better used on textured paper, as the dust tends to slip off smoother surfaces.  Can become dull if overworked.  Requires fixative.

Soft pastels (brand: Rembrandt): Highly responsive , capable of building large areas of colour which can then be smudged and blended with relative ease.  Extremely brittle, however.  Too thick and soft for working in much detail, although it is possible to create a sharp edge for lines (but this blunts almost immediately).  Requires fixative.

Pastel pencils (brand: Derwent): Allow more accurate applications than pastels sticks.  Useful for putting in details.  Smudged quite easily with fingers.

Oil pastels (brand: Farrel & Gold): Far harder than the soft chalky pastels.  Not very responsive at all until applied with some pressure.  Quite hard to smudge.  May be the cheapness of the brand, though.  Once they are smudged, the colour is good and strong, and requires less fixing than the softer pastels.

Crayons and pens

Wax crayons (brand: Crayola): The first time I’d used these for about forty years!  Not the best thing for detailed drawings, but I could envisage using them to work out rough colour sketches, thus saving more expensive materials for the later studies.

Felt tips (brand: Berol Brush Pens): These brush tips were good for broad sweeps of colour.  Using the tip of the nib allowed for precise control of line, useful for detail.  Could be used to layer colour, although this would require a heavyweight paper, I think, as it might be inclined to soak a thinner paper.

Biro: Felt odd to use a biro in a non-writing way.  Precise, accurate, good for line and detail.  Capable of a sketchy quality when used loosely.  Best held near tip for maximum control.  Could be used for hatching techniques.

Rollerball pens (brand: Mitsubishi Uni-Ball & Uni-Pin): Similar to biro – accurate, line, detail. Using a broader nib size allows for stronger quality of line.  Could imagine it working well with water-colour or ink wash.

Water-soluble pencils, pen and ink

Coloured water-soluble pencils (brand: Caran D’Ache): These water-soluble coloured pencils were useful for detail and accuracy, and built up pleasing tones of colour which could be layered very effectively.  Again, they were easier to control when held nearer the tip.  When washed over with water, they created subtle shades of colour.

Derwent Inktense water-soluble colour pencils: Similar to the above, but more intensely pigmented.  This is most apparent when washed over with water.  Useful for creating bold areas of colour.

Dip pen & ink + wash: Line, detail, accuracy.  Ink washes could be very expressive.  Good coverage when used for washes.  However, the ink line tended to ‘bleed’ on my sketchbook pages (170gsm).  When applying the ink with a brush it was fine, though.  Would be better used on watercolour paper, I think.

Conclusions/useful applications/likes/dislikes:

Best for fine detail: pencils (graphite, charcoal, and pastel), pen and ink, ballpoints.

Best for tonal work: charcoal, soft pastels, ink, water-soluble graphite sticks.

Best for colour: pastels (hard, soft, & oil), coloured pencils, coloured inks, felt tips.

Far and away my favourite medium so far is charcoal.  It seems to encourage experimentation and has a wide range of applications and possibilities, which I’m looking forward to exploring further in future studies.  Also, the water-soluble graphite sticks were a surprise, once a wash was applied, and I’ll be keen to use them again.  At the moment, I don’t feel that biro or crayon would be materials I would turn to too readily.  There are other materials that do similar jobs, but with preferable results (pen and ink, rollerball pens, pastels).  A useful exercise, though.