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Joe of our Seattle Store on Value Studies & Graphite

This week Joe tackled value studies while enjoying his coffee... His advice is to simplify your subject and create a gray-scale value study. A value study can help you when choosing a color palette for a later painting.

Start by blocking in the medium tone, then the dark, then the light. Refine your study using the many blending options available with your graphite of choice.

Later you will be able to use your study to find the equivalent tones for a painting. If you want, you can create a chart of your colored values. Don't forget that the color of the paper can serve as one of your tones!

Tombow Mono Pencils, HB
Good ole’ regular ole’ graphite pencils. I prefer the Tombow Mono because their graphite is consistent and doesn’t have pockets of hard or soft debris. They’re well made and won’t break on me unless I really want them to. The graphite goes down smooth, stays where I want it and erases easily. Finally, from the smoothness of the graphite to the pencil’s weight and lacquer, they just feel good. For my coffee shop sketching and travel sketching, I prefer the HB hardness, but that is simply my personal preference.

General’s Jumbo Graphite Stick
I love drawing with stick graphite. This one is a 4B Generals’ graphite stick. For me, drawing with a stick of graphite is almost sculptural and my drawings end up looking almost as though they are carved from stone. First, using a flat end of the stick, I lay in some graphite over the entire drawing area. Next, using my kneaded eraser and white vinyl erasers, I carve out all the major light areas of my subject matter: in this case, the entire coffee cup. After that, I grab the graphite again and lay back some of the tone and shadow. I then refine that some more by cutting back in with my erasers. This goes back and forth between adding and subtracting graphite until the drawing is complete. I actually do more drawing with the erasers (drawing the whites) than I do with the graphite.

Viarco Art Graf Graphite Tin
This stuff is a cake of rich water-soluble graphite that comes in a small tin. You cannot remove it from the tin to draw with it. Instead, it is intended to be used as one would use pan watercolors. Apply a wet brush to the graphite (in this case I used a Large Niji Waterbrush) and create your drawing directly with brush and graphite pigment. Drawings with the Art Graf Water-soluble graphite have a very painterly or ink-wash look to them. The only difference is that you’re still using graphite (not ink) so it can still be smudged or erased and will have that beautiful sparkly sheen that graphite produces when light hits it just right.

Daniel Smith Watercolor Stick, Graphite
The graphite DS Watercolor Stick is just as it sounds; it is watercolor, dried into a stick shape and this particular one uses finely ground graphite as the pigment. When drawing, it handles like a soft crayon, producing a textured line. Smoother papers produce less texture, while a Cold Press paper will produce a very rough line. When used to draw on wet paper, the line is more rich and less textured. As the stick really is watercolor, it can be fully used as a watercolor for painting. Simply take a wet brush to the stick, get some graphite pigment on the brush, then apply that color to your page. As a travel sketching tool, DS watercolor sticks give you the subtle options of a watercolor and the expressive marks of a crayon. Just don’t expect to be able to draw anything with too much detail; the sticks are too soft for that.

Faber Castell Water Soluble Graphite
Faber Castell’s Water Soluble Graphite handles much the same as a DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Stick. The differences being: Faber Castell’s Water Soluble Graphite are pencils. They produce much more standard pencil marks (while the DS Watercolor Sticks’ marks look crayonish) so your drawings can be very detailed.
Faber Castell Water Soluble Graphite can be erased or wetted then manipulated. Once it has been wet then allowed to fully dry, the graphite will set permanently and cannot be rewet. Daniel Smith Watercolor Sticks never set up permanently.
Faber Castell Water Soluble Graphite has 5 hardness grades to their graphite, while the DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Sticks have just the one. However, the Faber Castell Water Soluable pencils, in general, are much less rich in pigment and the nature of the pencils makes it more difficult to access large amounts of pigment to paint with. In short, DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Sticks are better for painterly drawings while Faber Castell’s Water Soluble Graphite is better for linear or detailed drawings that incorporate washes or painterly elements.

Palomino Blackwing Pencils
The history of these pencils is a great story that I won’t get into right now (you can look it up on the internets). Instead, I’ll focus on my experience with these pencils. And my experience with them is that they just feel good. The graphite is smooth, rich and creamy. The pencils are soft, feeling kind of like a 4B or 6B… but they’re different from your garden variety drawing pencil… and I can’t quite place that difference other than to say they just feel good. Oh! And the erasers are removeable, allowing you to use all of the eraser (1/2 of it isn’t stuck down in the pencil’s ferrule) and the erasers can be replaced if you’re the sort who uses erasers more than graphite.

    Joe's Supply List
  • Tombow Mono 12-Piece Set
  • General’s Jumbo Graphite
  • Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser
  • Faber-Castell Water-Soluble Graphite 5-Piece Set w/brush
  • Niji Waterbrush, Large
  • Viarco Art-Graf Tin
  • DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Stick, Graphite
  • Palomino Blackwing Pencils


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