Lets talk about Pencils, or rather Dry Media and your art.

Lets talk about Pencils, or rather Dry Media and your art.

This week I was invited to attend a Dry Media presentation at Gordon Harris, our local art supply store. It was a full house with lots of artists wanting to know a bit more about our most basic of art tools, the humble pencil. And I can tell you there was a lot I didn’t know about them.

To be able to create art you really do need to be able to sketch and draw so most artist understand the basic principles of the lead pencil the HBs from the 2, 4, 6 through to 9Bs etc etc, but it doesn’t end there.

We were given a run down on how you get lead in the pencil, and yes there were a few sniggers over that reference, but the reality of how they do was really quite interesting.


I personally have never used powdered charcoal or graphite powder and if I’ve ever picked up a jar of it, I would have put it straight back down being mystified as to how you would use it. Our presenter showed us how quick and easy it is to use, to create large areas of colour and I can tell you now it isn’t limited to simple black! Powdered charcoal or graphite powder is applied with a brush or can be rubbed in with your hand or a cloth, it’s also easy to remove areas of it with an eraser so quite interesting to work with. Another use for these powders is that they can be used to transfer drawings to another item, like say you want to sketch something onto your canvas, you apply the powder to the back of the image and then simply draw on the front while pressed onto the canvas.

Pencils come in different grades right from a 9H which is the hardest through to 9B the softest. There are carrier type pencils called ‘Propelling pencils’ which hold replaceable leads in small sizes for fine detail and ‘Clutch pencils’ which hold leads that are much thicker.

Silverpoint which I have seen before but I can imagine a lot of artists haven’t. Its a small point of real silver in a carrier pencil that is used to make lines on your canvas, its been used for centuries before graphite was discovered and its beauty is that it doesn’t show through the paint like charcoal does so its good to use for initial sketching.


What about coloured pencils, there are many many types and varieties available, and obviously different qualities, what you buy from the $2 isn’t going to have anywhere near the beauty and quality of what you get from an art , although ideal for the kids when they’re learning and not looking after their tools!

Watercolour pencils are the top of the line as far as Im concerned, the way you can colour in what you want to see, using a dry medium and then finishing off with water to blend and wash is amazing.

We also looked at the blending tools like Stumps or Tortillions (These are compressed paper sticks.) that you use to blend the charcoal or graphite without using your oily sweaty fingers that can spoil the finished sketch. There is also a chamois which I hadn’t seen used before, but thought what a great idea, as its useful for blending large areas and can be washed out when its dirty unlike the blending stumps and tortillions which need to work the charcoal or graphite out of their tips.


The best type of eraser to use is a kneaded putty eraser; this allows you to create fine points as well as broad flat eraser from the one piece allowing you flexibility to remove areas as required. I know I have one of those and I highly recommend them.

With erasers, natural rubber is better than synthetic or vinyl in that they don’t slip or smear the drawing and remove the charcoal or graphite much cleaner and easier.

There’s also an erasing shield, Ive never seen these before but they make perfect sense for those areas you want to lift out without disturbing other parts of the sketch. It has different shapes also so you can chose to leave areas in small designs if that’s what you wish to do as well.


I left this presentation keen to get out my drawing kit and have a play. Some of my pencils are over 30 years old and haven’t been used all that much in recent years. I need to see if I have all the bits and pieces so I can pop back to Gordon Harris and replenish my kit. I know I have blending stumps and a knead-able rubber but Im not sure about some of the other bits and pieces.

Check out www.gordonharris.co.nz if you want to purchase any of these items.

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Posted: Thursday 3 June 2010


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