Powdered Graphite and Water Soluble Graphite for Drawing and Painting

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Powdered Graphite and Water Soluble Graphite for Drawing and Painting

Here are some experiments with Powdered Graphite and Water Soluble Graphite used in painting and drawing. I played with dry and wet applications of graphite on figurative, portrait, still life and bird images (see below).

I also used different supports to test illustration board, watercolor paper, drawing paper and drafting film. All of it was a ton of fun.

The messy beginnings of watercolor re-wetting the ArtGraf water-soluble graphite on slick illustration board

Water Soluble Graphite with Watercolor on Illustration Board

ArtGraf water soluble graphite is an art party in a tiny, silver dollar sized tin! The figure painting (above and below) was an experiment to see if I could paint a gestural image with the graphite – sort of a grisaille starting point – and then add watercolors.

It was challenging because re-wetting the under painting of graphite with watercolor created a lot of mud. That was magnified by the fact that I started this painting on slick, plate finish illustration board.

The lesson in this one was ‘quit noodling‘ the pigments. Lay them down with a light hand, and leave the paint alone. I think every artist struggles with this challenge; we always want to go back and fiddle with watercolors.

I think this would be a fun experiment on different paper, and perhaps powdered, instead of water soluble graphite. Maybe cold press or rough watercolor paper, because the ‘tooth’ of the paper might hold the graphite in concave depressions. With a light hand, the watercolor would simply coat powdered graphite, rather than lift and mix with it.

water-soluble-graphite-portrait of a girl laying on a couch, with watercolor added
Waiting for the Coffee to Brew – Water Soluble Graphite and Watercolor (available in my Etsy Shop)
I like these water-soluble sketch pencils to lay down drawings under my watercolors. The wet pigments dissolve my drawn lines, so I don’t have to erase.

Water Soluble Sketching Pencils and ArtGraf Graphite on Watercolor Paper

After I tried Derwent water-soluble sketching pencils, I’ve continued using them in my studio ever since. They are perfect for laying a watercolor sketch in place, because the pencil lines dissolve in water. You don’t have to erase them, if pencil lines under a watercolor bother you. The only caveat is don’t shade your drawing with the pencils.

If you use these pencils under your watercolor, and you’re heavy handed, or you cross hatch and shade your under-drawing, the graphite will blend with your watercolors and darken hues. No bueno. Keep your lines light and airy. They’ll disappear under your watercolors.

ArtGraf Water-soluble graphite used to begin a monochromatic still life painting

Water-soluble Pencils and Water-soluble Graphite – Monochrome Painting

Another use for the water-soluble pencils is drawing and then painting with ArtGraf water-soluble graphite. I had so much fun goofing around with a still life set up, on plate finish Bristol paper (above).

The still life drawing above was done in the Derwent Water-soluble sketch pencil. The shading and values were done with the ArtGraf water-soluble graphite using a brush. And both of them erase!

So, you can create a sketch, paint it with graphite in monochrome values, let it dry, and then erase your lights and details. (See the demo video below.)

water-soluble-graphite-painting of a bird in eucalyptus branches
Little Jay, Water Soluble Graphite painting (Video demo below)
Here is a demo video to show you ArtGraf water-soluble graphite, on two different papers
Miniature portrait, in process – water-soluble graphite, graphite stick, blending stomp, paper towel and eraser

Water Soluble Graphite and Standard Graphite Mixed on Drafting Film

Another support that’s fun to try with your graphite experiments is drafting film. I love the stuff for graphite, colored pencils, drypoint etchings and monotype printmaking. It’s incredibly versatile.

In this petite portrait, the girl’s face and features were blocked in with water-soluble graphite, very loose and gestural (above). I used a graphite stick (also made by ArtGraf – the same company that makes the water-soluble graphite) to adjust dark and light shapes.

A blending stomp was used to push the graphite around, smudge and soften edges. And my favorite fine-tipped eraser picked out highlights here and there.

Seven, Graphite Drawing on Drafting Film

Powdered Graphite on Drawing Paper

Have you ever played with powdered graphite? It’s magical and fun, though a bit messy. The art below was done on Strathmore Drawing paper with General’s Powdered Graphite, a number 6 woodless drawing pencil, and a paper towel.

I was working on the floor – late at night – so I’m sorry the photos are dark, but you get the idea. If you pour a small amount of powdered graphite into a cup or a bowl you can easily fit your hand and fingers into – that’s all you need to get started.

Wrap a folded paper towel around your finger tips, dip into the powdered graphite and start drawing with the paper towel. After your basic shapes are laid down, use an eraser to add lights and details. Move back and forth between adding powdered graphite (applying darks) and taking it away (carving the light) with the eraser.

Listening to the Sea in process: Powdered graphite, woodless drawing pencil and a paper towel
General’s Powdered Graphite in a small cup with a paper towel and a woodless pencil.
Listening to the Sea, Graphite Drawing made with powdered graphite and an eraser

Play with Your Art Supplies

I hope you’ll pull out supplies you’ve purchased with the intent of “trying out” and give yourself permission for a play day.

Use assorted papers, a variety of brushes, and each new pigment or tool you’ve collected. No painting a thing allowed… in other words, nothing recognizable. Just make marks and push pigments around. Goof off.

It’s wiser to court your art supplies with a lunch or an afternoon with tea, before you attempt a masterpiece with them. Ask them questions. Get to know them a little. Try a few things to see how they react.

You might find the supplies in your hand will respond to your moves a bit more willingly after spending some quality play time together.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you in the next post –


P.S. Do you know about American Watercolor? I subscribe to their weekly missives via email. It’s free, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading their watercolor painting interviews, articles and tips.

Art Quote

Choice of attention — to attend to this and ignore that — is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.

W. H. Auden

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7 thoughts on “Powdered Graphite and Water Soluble Graphite for Drawing and Painting”

  1. Donna Thibodeau

    How do you get your casual poses? Do you live with young people? That Listening to the Sea is so effective with her facial expression. Your art is so relatable.

  2. Thank you for being so generous in sharing your process. Your drawings are beautiful! I just happen to have some ArtGraf water soluble graphite sticks and blocks tucked away. You have inspired me to get them out and try them out. After a long spell of back surgeries at age 73, printmaking and painting have been on hold. I’ve decided to go back to basics and start drawing again. (It’s easier to come and go) I have been using charcoal on cotton rag paper and loving the results. Experimenting with ArtGraph is next. Thank you for all the tips and demos.

    1. Hi LeeAnn – Welcome back to your own creative life! I’m so excited for you! I hope your play date with the ArtGraf is full of oooooh’s and ahhhhh’s and ideas for future projects! Thanks for the compliments, and happy making!

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