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Back to Basics: Graphite

Most of my sketches start with graphite (pencil) but soon disappears under ink work and watercolor and any stray graphite lines are erased.

My generation is very familiar with graphite in the form of the Number 2 pencil used to shade in answer sheets on standardized tests in school. An HB pencil is the equivalent to the old school Number 2 (I really shouldn’t say “old school” because the Number 2 pencil is the go-to pencil for my students today). The HB pencil is usually the first pencil I start with.

It was time to sketch with a form for drawing stemming from the 17th century. This form of mark making was given it’s name in 1789 by a German Mineralogist named Abraham Werner. Graphite comes from the Ancient Greek graphein, meaning to write or draw.

Sketching in graphite and painting in watercolor bears some similarities. Both conveys depth through the building up of layers and use the white of the paper for highlights. But graphite is much more forgiving, you can erase your mistakes in graphite and you can’t in watercolor. The nuances of blending the graphite with a blending tool such as a blending stump or tortillons, make etherial and realistic tonal transitions.

Now that Palace Arts was now open after three months, I headed over to Capitola to pick up some graphite drawing tools and drawing paper. On the way back to the cabin I stopped at Whole Foods to pick up two Bosc pears, not to eat, but to draw.

A graphic sketch of a quail sculpture that my grandma collected, I often hear the “Chicago” call of California’s state bird: the California quail from my deck.