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Graphite workshop with Karen Musgrave Hill 2016

First of all, Karen briefed us on the following topics. We each were given a little starter kit with some of the tools and materials discussed below.

Pencils
Karen discussed the types of pencils that can be used – wood case, propeller and graphite sticks (for deeper black pencil effects). Mechanical pencils and wood case are great for outlines and details, while others are suited to outlining and for in between areas and depth. Karen started with Derwent then Faber Castell, but now almost always uses Tombow. They are so smooth!
A useful way of finding the pencils that suit you is to produce a tonal strip – this allows you to work with the pencils from different manufacturers to get the effects you want. It’s also a useful tool to assess depth of colour, especially the essential deepest black for shadows.

Paper
This is personal choice and depends on the effect you wish to achieve. For botanical subjects a smooth hot-pressed paper or Bristol Board are recommended. Karen likes Fabriano 5 and thinks it is still the best paper for graphite work and very white. Strathmore Bristol Plate 500 series is very good but quite cream in colour. You could also try the Royal Watercolour Society HP but this is slightly rough.

On the whole, it is the use of solvents for blending that will dictate which paper is suitable – so it is a question of try it and see.

Erasers
A kneadable putty rubber is useful in erasing graphite as it lifts the colour off the paper rather than embedding it in the paper. Hard plastic is ok for cleaning paper.
An alternative is blue/white tack – this is best as it is highly malleable and doesn’t leave a mark although it depends on the paper being used – it can scuff the surface of some papers.

Blenders
To blend or not to blend? Try it! It changes the graphite to darker and smoother tones. Blend light to dark. But don’t blend too early or you will lose detail. You can use:
• Stumps of various sizes – these can be sharpened/cleaned with an emery board. The graphite deposited on them through use can be used as a way of applying lighter graphite to your drawing.
• Tortillons – like stumps but harder
• Q-Tips
• Chamois leather rolled to a point
• Hard pencils – 6h, 8H
• A piece of felt
• Clay shapers and colour shapers – wedge-shaped rubber tipped tools
• Wet blend using Zest-It solvent – drip some on a sponge in a little pot then, dampen a stump on the sponge and apply to blend.
NEVER use your finger! It leaves an oily deposit.

Embossing – tools with hard metal tips of different sizes and shapes. They make marks in the paper surface which, when pencilled over, show as white – great for fine details. Blunt darning needles and cake decorating tools can work well.

Sharpening pencils
Use a craft knife and sharpen to expose 0.5-1cm of lead, (yes, it is a long lead point, but it works!) then further sharpen the point on an emery board as required. Wipe the end of the pencil after sharpening.

Graphite under watercolour
This was really interesting. Use hard pencils or it will go dirty. Use the pencils to create shading, then paint over. (A bit like you might use neutral tint paint before painting colour).

Graphite over watercolour
Paint your subject then use pencil on top to create detail.

Part Two
The session then moved onto different techniques in using graphite.
The class practised sharpening pencils using sharpeners which produce sharp leads, and craft knives to fashion a sharp point. We practised tonal work using continuous tone – using small ellipses to produce a smooth set of examples using different pencils to explore the effects each produces. Karen recommended making a tonal chart for every pencil you use, darks through to lights, and for every brand – each brand will have different tonal values. We tried out embossing and each of the blending techniques.

Graphite Powder
This can be a bit messy but is highly effective for tonal work as it can be blended so easily. To minimise any mess a long handled eye makeup sponge can be used cheap and readily available – ideal for controlling the powder and blending. You can create your own powder by sharpening your leads into a pot. A soft brush or feather can be used to clear debris – don’t use your hands!!
The rest of the workshop was spent drawing our own specimens and trying out all the materials to work on effects. Karen brought plenty of plant material for us to practice our graphite skills, and we then spent the afternoon gripped with drawing and shading. We had plenty of one-to-one help as Karen toured the room. I (Jo) found it a challenge to view the subject tonally.

Karen’s tips to help with this include:
• Photograph the subject then convert the photo to black and white.
• I had a green/yellow physalis. Placing a piece of red film/acetate in front of the object neutralised the colour.
• Cut off some of the light sources e.g. by creating a 2-sided screen – this helped see light and shade more clearly.
Karen mingled with the class offering advice, answering questions and demonstrating techniques. A more detailed workshop booklet was handed out to participants for future reference.
This was a very well planned and executed day. I (Jo) thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot more about using pencils than I expected. I was pretty pleased with my finished drawing. This was a workshop where I did manage to complete a drawing as well as learning a lot on the way.

This review is taken from two articles written by Jo and Linda