Graphite or charcoal : is this the real dilemma?
Some will say : it is a matter of preference. Others will be led by their pragmatism : they will use everything at their disposal and be proud to be called “multimedia” artists. But in the end, between graphite and charcoal or other media, it is not only a matter of choice. It is a matter of “values”. It might well be that graphite is the language of dreams and charcoal the striking voice of reality.
In other words : each pencil and paper choice will set a different “perspective” or window on the world, with its own properties and behaviours. One must not underestimate these differences and accord each choice with one’s personality and goals.
To you beginner : what is stated here about graphite and charcoal is only a reflection of my own personality and shouldn’t be taken for granted. If there should be one task I want from you, it is of finding a better perspective than mine.
The advantages of graphite for drawing
1. Familiarity with the medium
2. Variety of grades
Graphite drawing pencils come in a variety of different grades from soft to hard allowing you to render dark to light values accordingly. However, in practice, I find three or four grades of graphite are enough for rendering almost anything.
3. Robust lead
3. Easy sharpening
5. Less dust and smearing
4. Smooth light gradations
4. Less expensive and more available
The drawbacks of graphite for drawing
1. Graphite doesn’t allow very dark realistic values or blacks
Graphite isn’t as dark and rich black as charcoal. This will prove necessary for handling realistic shadows. Let’s not forget that here on earth, some shadows made by the sun can be very dark.
2. Beware of graphite shine
Graphite has shine in areas where too many layers were pushed into the paper as in the shadow. I find this very undesirable as it interferes with our judgment of values and is unpleasant to watch. On the other side, charcoal has no shine whatsoever.