Pencil Drawings

August 19, 2011

I’ve been returning to pencil drawing as a way to reconnect with my artistic roots and to accumulate drawings for a special project.  I always liked the detail and soft, warm gray of graphite drawings, but didn’t really get interested in this medium (other than sketching for ink or watercolor drawings) until I was in college and good fine-point mechanical pencils became widely available.  The mechanical pencils that I had in high school all seemed to have thick, hard leads that weren’t good for much besides math homework.  I tried various traditional artist’s drawing pencils in several hardnesses, but found them all scratchy, brittle, and hard to sharpen into the fine point that I wanted for detail work.

One day in about 1985 I found something new:  A “Quicker Clicker” mechanical pencil with a bright blue see-through plastic barrel.  It came with several extra erasers and a package of nice thin .05mm HB leads.  Finally I had a graphite drawing tool that suited my drawing style, and that’s all I used for pencil drawing for many years.  It worked especially well for drawing bones, like this skull of an old male opossum that I found in Kentucky:

Opossum Skull - pencil, 1999

Opossum Skull - pencil, 1999

Here’s a recent mechanical pencil drawing from a few weeks ago.  This is Pseudevernia intensa, the Western Antler Lichen, which is common on conifers (especially Pseudotsuga) above about 7000 feet in the southeastern Arizona mountains.  It is very conspicuous and often grows with several species of Usnea.  Occasionally, tufts of it blow off the trees and end up on the ground.  The specimens in the drawing were picked up on a hiking trail.  This lichen is bluish-gray with dark brown apothecia, and is black and white underneath.  It is fun to draw because it is so variable in shape, with many fascinating and beautiful details.

Pseudevernia intensa - graphit drawing

Pseudevernia intensa - graphit drawing

I decided to try some ordinary art pencils again, and discovered O’bon “Artiste” pencils.  These come in a set of ten in a wide range of hardnesses.  They are made from rolled-up recycled newspaper instead of wood, so they are round in cross-section and a bit larger in diameter than most wood pencils.  Compared to wood pencils they are more durable and easier to sharpen.  The leads are made from a graphite-polymer blend like mechanical pencils, instead of the traditional graphite-clay blend, so they are very smooth and not scratchy.  I usually prefer to buy American-made tools, but I made an exception for these.  They are made by an Asian company and are marketed rather oddly as “green” toys rather than as art supplies.  Graphite pencils are already very “green” compared to most other media, and in this case, any potential environmental benefit is cancelled out by the overdone, non-reusable packaging.  But they are nice, inexpensive art pencils, and very enjoyable to use.  Here’s a drawing that I finished yesterday using the O’bon pencils (a few very dark spots were added last, with a Faber-Castell 9B woodless graphite pencil).  It’s on a 9×12 sheet of paper so the whole drawing didn’t fit the scanner.  It is an old, dry, fragile piece of a branch that fell from a huge desert cottonwood.  The bark is gone, the surface is cracked and weathered, and carpenter ants have hollowed out galleries in the interior, but the sense of movement, organic growth, and the seasonal variations of rain, drought, and wind all remain in the wood.

Cottonwood Dancer

Cottonwood Dancer


3 Responses to “Pencil Drawings”

  1. Wonderful work, and love your reverent attention to the things that are seldom noticed, but have so much subtle beauty. Thank you.

  2. Mo Crow said

    stunning work you have a great eye for detail!

  3. Beth said

    As always, I love seeing your beautiful artwork. Thanks.

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