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Drawing on a Graphite Ground

November 29, 2009

graphite-stickToday we’re going to look at something a little bit different: drawing on a graphite ground. This involves creating a graphite background on a piece of paper, adding to it to create shadows, and taking away from it to create highlights. You are essentially drawing on a light grey paper, erasing to create lighter areas. This is a great exercise for beginners because new drawers have a tendency to draw very light. This process forces you to identify and pick out the highlights, rather than drawing around them.

To start, use a graphite stick if you have one. This is a big chunk of graphite (pencil guts) that you can buy for a dollar or two. They are great for filling in large areas, and for expressive drawings without much detail. If you don’t have one,drawing-with-a-graphite-stick use the edge of your pencil.

Throughout most of the drawing, you are going to use the side of the stick to draw. This makes you look for large areas of value and develops your eye for identifying shapes. When drawing like this, think of a pyramid. You start out broad and undefined, and as you progress you get more detailed and focused.

Choose your subject matter. Try to find something that has a strong light source with bright highlights and dark shadows. I’m going to draw my trusty old wing back chair as an example.

For the first step, use the edge of your graphite stick (or pencil) shade in your entire page.



Next, use a tissue to blend the whole surface. You could use a blending stick, but it will go a lot quicker with a tissue.



Now you’re ready to draw. Using the edge of your graphite stick, block in the shadows and the darker midtones of your subject. You can try to capture some of the subtle nuances for now, but concentrate on looking for the large shapes.



Next, use your kneaded eraser to lift out the highlights. Look for the lightest areas where the light hits the subject directly. These should be the only places that are actually white.



As a last step, you can use the end of the graphite stick to add a bit more detail and dimension. Here I’m adding the very darkest shadows.



There it is! This is a quick and easy process that’s a little bit different from a straightforward sketch. Changing the process like this makes you think and look in different ways. It’s a great exercise to train your brain to identify large shapes rather than focusing on details right away.


From → Drawing

  1. Oh, I remember doing this kind of thing and really loving it. Not only does it help you “see” something in a different way, it is almost as though you are uncovering a treasure – a more sculptural process, maybe!

    You are a wonderful teacher, Miranda!

    • Yes, it’s almost as if the image emerges from the background! It’s amazing how such a small change can have such a big effect on the way we approach things.

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