a watercolor of a woman napping on a couch with a cat

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Have You Tried Powdered Graphite under Watercolors?

As an experiment, I used powdered graphite to lay out shapes and a loose value study from a cell phone image my son took. Adding wet media to powdered graphite can lift and mix the particles to create mud, so I was light handed in my brushwork and water-loading.

Since I prefer to use glazing in watercolors, I thought this would be the least disruptive approach to using wet media over a dry media.

powdered graphite sketch of a sleeping woman with her cat
In Process: the reference photo on the left, and the powdered graphite sketch on the right….

Watercolors Over Powdered Graphite

I used General’s Powdered Graphite, and a Faber-Castel #6 graphite drawing pencil on this small figurative drawing study. After each adjustment, I buffed the surface of the paper (Arches 300 lb cold press) very lightly with a paper towel.

I used my favorite drawing eraser to carve light into the buffed graphite – the General’s Tuff Stuff eraser stick. <—Have you tried this one? I have them stashed in every art supply tote bag and road case I own. They’re easy on the paper, but they remove pencil very effectively. And the eraser is refillable!

a watercolor of a woman napping on a couch with a cat
Blanket Hog 6×6 graphite and watercolor study

Artsy Inspiration Worth Sharing

What makes color work – is proportion….

Kaffe Fassett
Simple set up to attach watercolor paper scraps to cardboard for spontaneous painting
Arranging scraps of Watercolor paper cut offs on a board with masking tape and a protective newsprint cover for evening watercolor experiments on the couch…

What Are You Making?

I’m trying hard not to start anything new until I *finish* the stuff already in process. My word of the year is Finish, because I’m a Jumper. I leap from project to project, media to media, subject to subject. I know, you’re laughing. You read this blog, so you already know that little cookie about me. (Oh well. Looking at my feet, kicking dirt around…)

Once I tear away from one project, I literally forget that I started it while leaping onto the next one. I bungee jump towards “I have an idea!”, over and over again. My brain is a single-story cork board, fluttering with a thousand post it notes, in no particular order.

I’ve struggled with reigning in focus to finish things forever. Getting started is easy, and exciting, but if the project takes more than I have time for in one day, I move on to something else the next time I cross the threshold of my studio door. Ask my husband. And my family. There will be a lot of eye-rolling and mumbling.

To combat this, I deploy a variety of accountability approaches. Lists (Listy McListerson, at your service), verbal commitments to other people, meetings on zoom to go over weekly goals, etc.

So, let’s post an accountability talk in the comments about what we’re going to do this week, okay? You first: What’s on your list to finish in the next seven days?

Thanks for your visit, and I’ll see you in the next post!


P.S. If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to American Watercolor for weekly missives via email. It’s free, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading their watercolor painting interviews, articles and tips.

My favorite dusty rose pink linen artist’s apron. Mine has printmaking ink stains on it, but I still love it anyway.

Art Quote

After two yrs of circulation in major exhibits, William McGregor Paxton’s painting Sylvia was purchased by an American collector in 1910. His commissions and exhibitions continued at a vigorous pace and by 1935 he had earned more prizes than any other American artist. In NYC, however, where the genteel subjects of the Boston School were less revered, Paxton’s solo shows had mixed reviews. Paxton and his peers were beginning to be eclipsed by the shift to modernist painting.

~E. Lee
a cat making direct eye contact, and asking of you miss your art supplies
Visit Six Tips to Paint More for a Free Video Mini Course

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7 thoughts on “Powdered Graphite Under Watercolors”

  1. Hi Belinda, I love your posts because you are so real. Thank you for that! As a fellow jumper, let me tell you how cluttered my little studio gets when I jump around. I would like to view it as organized chaos, but don’t have many in my family buying into that one… So my “finish” project this week is “cleaning my room” (gosh, i have to talk to myself like a teenage daughter!)
    One other artistic comment…do you see an advantage to powdered graphite with water color glazing vs watersoluable graphite that is allowed to dry and then glazed over with watercolor.
    I do enjoy your prints and other works:-)

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Thanks so much for the warm note and kind words. I was inspired by your comment over the weekend, and set a timer to de-clutter the right side of my studio. The stacks were starting to list to one side. It’s done, and I thank you for the camaraderie on studio-clean-up. How is yours looking?

    2. On the graphite, I find that the powdered is best under watercolor, because it doesn’t liquify and blend with the colored pigments instantly the way the water-soluble is formulated to do. Still though – it’s easy to lift with a wet brush and make mud, so a light touch works best in either case.

  2. Laura Wilson

    Lovely, Belinda! I always look forward to your posts. Do you have a video tutorial on laying out shapes with powdered graphite, buffing the surface and carving out shapes with an eraser?

    1. Hi Laura, I don’t have a video on this, as it was an experiment. I wasn’t sure it would work, so I didnt film it. If you watch this sped up drawing video of David Kassan, you’ll see him working with a foam applicator and pan pastel to block in the shapes, then charcoal pencil in black, and white, and then eraser. Then wiping the drawing to soften and remove all the edges before going back in all over again. He does this repeatedly. That should at least give you a feel for the process in case you want to experiment: https://youtu.be/sBmFSsT4jQc

  3. Belinda,
    WOW! I am unsubscribing to most of my email senders, but yours has so much to offer and hits my issues every time. I am also a leap to the next project person who needs to focus on finishing, and in currently setting goals for “The 12 week year”, will focus on finishing all of the projects that merit completion. Thank you for your ongoing inspiration.

    1. Hi Shelley – Fellow Jumper. 🙂 I like your qualifier that you’ll work to finish all projects that ‘merit completion’. That’s a survey I stuggle with/forget about, so I’ll keep it in mind as I check my lists. Thanks so much for your compliments, and I’m glad the missives here are resonating with you. Here’s to staying on it, till we’re done. Happy finishing!

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