Water Soluble Graphite

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Using water soluble graphite never crossed my mind until recently. In fact, I’d never even heard of them until recently. My curiosity was piqued however, when I heard another artist talking about them. I wondered what I would ever use them for. I’m not big on painting. Frankly, I don’t have the patience for it. First, it’s liquid and a lot more unpredictable than graphite. And secondly, there’s the dry time. Who has time for that? This artist described water soluble graphite like using watercolor, which I absolutely don’t have the patience for. So why would I ever use these pencils?

Well, one of the reasons this artist uses them is for her rough sketch underneath paintings or color pencil drawings. Since they are water soluble, they dissolve when they come into contact with anything liquid. And no, color pencil isn’t liquid, but her color pencil method includes using odorless mineral spirits to blend the color pencil. Once this step takes place, the water-soluble pencils dissolve with the mineral spirits and the rough sketch virtually disappears underneath the color pencil. This is what caught my attention.

Faber Castell Graphite Aquarelle Water Soluble Pencils

One of my next commissions is a color portrait of an orange tabby. Some areas of her fur are light enough that regular pencil lines might show through lighter color pencils. Water soluble graphite sounded like the perfect solution, so I ordered a set for $15 on Amazon. The set I ordered was the Faber Castell Graphite Aquarelle Water Soluble Pencils set of five. It comes with an HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, and 8B. It also includes a #6 round brush.

I decided to give them a test drive all on their own, before I attempted my color pencil project. I chose a photo of a kingfisher, which had a nice range of values. The pencils do have a different feel than my regular non-water-soluble pencils. They felt smoother, in a waxy color pencil kind of way, but they covered well enough. Since I was anxious to see what they did when introduced to water, I sketched out only a small area of the kingfisher’s head and then tested to see just how water-soluble they were. The answer was…very.

I had dipped my brush into water and didn’t drain very much of it out of the brush before touching it to the surface of my paper. The graphite became very much like watercolor and just diluted out. I rescued the drawing by using a corner of a paper towel to draw up the water drop. From then on, I used very little water in the brush at all. Even so, I still had to allow for dry time. Attempting to draw on damp paper will not only make an unsightly black blob, but it will damage the surface of the paper. By the way, I was using Fabriano Artistico 140 lb paper. It’s a heavier grade paper, but still buckled just a little even though I wasn’t loading up my brush with water. I wouldn’t recommend anything less than 140 lb paper.

Kingfisher drawn with Faber Castell Graphite Aquarelle Water Soluble Pencils.

Overall, I was pleased with the experience. I was able to blend areas out much smoother than I’d be able to using any other methods. I also found that even the 4B got very dark once I applied water. So much so that I never even tested the 6B or 8B. It was pretty easy to see how I could get a more painterly look to a drawing by using more water, but for that I’d need a heavier grade paper. Once the paper was dry, I could go over the area again, adding detail and values, and then blend it out again if necessary. I didn’t spend more than an hour and a half on this drawing, but it looks fairly decent for an experimental rough sketch and I wouldn’t mind working more with these pencils for black and white pieces.

Have you used water soluble graphite? Do you have any suggestions of special techniques you can share? Comment below and share!

Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at mnatiodesigns.com/blog/ or follow me @mnaito_fineart .