Drawing (Painting) With Powdered Graphite

Powdered graphite is the same graphite that pencil leads are made of, only ground into fine powder. You can “paint” it on paper with brushes to make watercolor-like “wash” effects, smooth textures, and cloudy backgrounds.

You can buy powdered graphite from art supply stores, but it’s easy to make your own.

Here’s how:

Tools for making powdered graphite.

Tools for making powdered graphite.

You’ll need an emery board or fine sandpaper, a pencil (any hardness), and a small flat brush.

Making powdered graphite.

Making powdered graphite.

Rub the pencil tip back and forth on the sand paper over a piece of paper. A little goes a long way, so a small pile is plenty to start with.

A wide mouth jar with a screw on lid is a good place to store it.

Loading the brush.

Loading the brush.

Powdered graphite is slick and messy to work with, but it’s worth the effort to learn how. Be forewarned though, you will get smudged in the process!

Drag the brush through the powder and then rub it back and forth over paper.

Powdered Graphite Test

Powdered Graphite Test

The graphite will be dark at first, and then lighter as it’s worked out of the brush.

Unless you want a very dark value, always work the brush back and forth like this until it reaches the value you want. (It’s much easier to add more graphite than it is to take it back!)

Three Powdered Graphite Drawing Exercises
You’ll need an emery board or sandpaper, a pencil, a small flat brush, and a larger brush.

Powdered Graphite Tools

Powdered Graphite Tools

Gradated Wash

Gradated Wash

 Make A Gradated Graphite “Wash”

Dip the large brush into graphite and make one end of the gradation as dark as you can. This will take several layers of graphite. Then drag the brush away from that area to create a gradated swatch that ends in the lightest value possible.

If there are streaks or blotches, gently stroke them with the small brush until they darken and blend in. For this blending to work, the small brush needs a little graphite in it. There should be some left in the brush from the last exercise but if not, pick up a tiny bit of graphite on the tip and test it. A few strokes should make a light smudge.

When done, the swatch should look smooth and similar to a watercolor wash.

You’ll have to work with powdered graphite a while to get a feel for it, so you might want to make a few gradations before you move on to the next exercises.

Powdered graphite swatches.

Powdered graphite swatches.

Dark, Medium And Light Swatches

Dark Swatch

Make the darkest swatch first. Begin as you did in the last exercise, but make the swatch one even tone. Use the small brush to blend in any light streaky areas too.

Medium and Light Swatches

Because it’s always easier to darken than lighten, work the brush back and forth over another piece of paper until it reaches the value you want before applying it to the medium or light swatches. Use the small brush for touching up these swatches too.

Egg - powdered graphite drawing.

Egg – powdered graphite drawing.

Now Draw (Or Paint) An Egg

To get even more control over this technique, draw an egg.

  • Smooth paper
  • Small brush
  • Medium brush
  • Paper stump
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Chamois cloth
  • … any combination of similar tools will work.

1. Place the egg on a white surface (a sheet of drawing paper works well) and arrange the light so there’s a dark shadow on the egg and a clearly defined shadow cast on the paper.

2. Lightly sketch the egg and its shadow with a medium hard pencil.

~~~ Now put the pencil away. ~~~

3. Use only brushes, stumps, a chamois cloth, tissues, erasers, and etc. to apply and adjust the graphite.

4. Use the Chamois cloth to lighten the graphite by”dabbing and lifting” with a folded corner.