Notebook, 1993-


Drawing - Carbon


An allotropic form of carbon, known also as plumbago and black lead. It is dark gray or black, crystalline (often in the form of slippery scales), greasy, and soft, with a metallic luster. It is a good conductor of electricity and does not fuse at very high temperatures or burn easily. It occurs in nature in grayish-black masses, massive or crystalline, and is obtained in various parts of the world--in the United States (massive) in Nevada, Michigan, and Rhode Island and (crystalline) in Alabama and North Carolina; in Brazil; in the British Isles and on the Continent; and in Sri Lanka, the Malagasy Republic, and Siberia. It is also prepared artificially by treating hard coal in the electric furnace, a process discovered by E.G. Acheson. The uses of graphite are wide and diverse. The so-called lead of pencils is in reality a mixture of graphite with clay. Crucibles required to withstand high temperatures and also electrodes are commonly made of graphite. It is used also in stove polish, in some paints, and as a lubricant. [Harris, William H., and Judith S. Levey, eds. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1975.]

Graphite [or, popularly, pencil] has somewhat the same appearance as metalpoint and produces a similar line, but has a richer, more lustrous texture because of its softer substance which crumbles subtly with pressure. Graphite can be soft or hard, and can produce varying degrees of blackness and grayness. Very soft graphite can be rubbed with a "stump" [usually a cylinder of rolled paper] for shading large areas; and hard graphite, sharpened to very fine point, can produce extremely precise lines.

Graphite was first widely adopted in the seventeenth century, by Dutch artists. It lent itself to different styles of drawing; Gainsborough, Ingres, Delacroix, Degas, van Gogh, and Matisse, among many others, exploited its qualities, and range. In Ingres's drawing The Guillon-Lethière Family , the clear, fine lines of graphite variously convey the textures of heavy cloth coat, smooth hair, loose curls, and soft flesh gently modeled from light to dark tones. At the same time, the viewer enjoys the play of line, and the control and precision in the handling of the pencil.

[Drawing Techniques, Gallery Notes P5 - Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. 1984, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.]



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