Graphite: A Review of this Versatile Drawing Medium

By Rick Jones

You may remember, back in the day, many of us learned to write cursive with a No. 2 pencil. You may have started with a fat, six-sided pencil because in early elementary school, it was easier for small hands to grasp and control. Today, in many better quality art supply stores, you can find modern versions of those fat, hexagonal pencils made with cores of graphite in various degrees of hardness and softness. Many artists like the weight and control, along with the thicker leads in these pencils. Let’s take a closer look at pencils and various forms of graphite used by so many artists today. The variety is surprising!

In today’s world, artists have a huge selection of graphite products with which to draw and create. Pencils come in many brands from the dollar store Chinese types to top of the line art supply store offerings. Better brands include several types by Faber Castell, Prismacolor, Staedtler-Mars, Derwent, and Caran D’Ache. Within those brands you’ll find types like 9000 (Faber Castell), Premiere (Prismacolor), Lumograph (Staedtler-Mars), Graphic (Derwent), Ebony (Prismacolor), and Technograph, Technalo, and Grafwood (Caran D’Ache). Any of these would be rated professional grade. One could add General Pencil’s Layout pencil to that group as well. It has been lauded for its smooth, black lead and ability to hold a sharp point.

Student or beginner grade pencils would include just about any outside the above list. Some more commonly found would be General, Tombow, Royal & Langnickel, Pacific Arc, Cretacolor, and Kimberly. Kimberly does offer the widest range of grades, but like other lesser quality pencils, there are inconsistencies with the graphite like hard and soft spots, brittleness, etc. In other cheaper pencils leads can be off center making sharpening difficult. Casings are also mystery mixes in cheaper examples rather than solid wood such as cedar. Again, having an adverse effect on sharpening.

Go into any quality art supply store today and you’ll find a range of graphite products along with many brands of graphite pencils. This has added an enormous range of creative possibilities for the artist and student. For example, you can now find graphite that is water soluble, powdered, in cake form, fat blocks, cubes, sticks, and now even in putty form—like graphite clay! And a German company, Fila, makes Lyra graphite sticks that look like short, fat pencils, but they are solid pieces of graphite pointed on one end. They’re a lot of graphite for less than two bucks. Imagine the drawing opportunities this creates. With powdered, cake, and water soluble graphite you can add brushes to your drawing tool arsenal. Couple these with a variety of erasers—including electric—and it certainly pushes the limits of what used to be referred to as “pencil drawing”.

So, you can search online for these products, or find an art store that will actually let you try most of these products before you buy. Get some and see how they can push your drawing envelope to the limit!