One of the best things about being a YouTube artist is that people are always suggesting new materials for me to try out, things I had never heard of before! I had these Faber-Castell Graphite Aquarelle (water-soluble graphite) pencils suggested several times so when my local art store started carrying them I had to pick up a set.
I bought a pack of 5 pencils including HB, 2B, 4B, 6B and 8B. The set came with a taklon bristled round brush for applying water to blend. When I got home I tested them out on a piece of cold pressed watercolor paper. Glee is the only word I can use to describe my reaction. After 5 minutes I knew I had found a new favorite medium.
I was a bit worried that only 5 different values of pencil wouldn’t be enough for my taste, but I found that I mostly used the HB and 9B pencils in the set. You can control how light or dark your values come out by how many layers you apply and how much pressure you use on the pencils. Needing so few pencils made this one of the most inexpensive mediums I’ve worked in!
You apply the graphite to paper like you normally would, but then by dipping your paintbrush into water and washing it over the area you work, you end up with a sort of watercolor feel that is easier to control than watercolors. The values of the pencil come out quite dark with the addition of water.
If you’ve worked in graphite, you know how hard it can be to get your darkest values really dark. Here, with the 8B pencil I found I could apply a layer, blend it with water, then when that dried add more graphite on top of that, blend with water and repeat until I got my values as dark as I wanted. An added bonus to this is that I completely avoided the typical shine that comes with graphite work, which made getting a good photograph of my finished piece quite easy.
Another thing that makes these pencils so nice to work with is that you can completely avoid the grainy look that can take a bit of work with regular graphite to get rid of. One wash with water on the paint brush and the graphite dissolves into the tooth of the canvas, giving you very solid coverage.
Raven with Faber-Castell Graphite Aquarelle and a touch of Derwent Inktense teal
After my initial test with the quick grapes shown above, I jumped right into a full project. For my raven, I started by using the HB pencil and a damask stencil to draw out my background. Once I had that shaded in I used a bit of water with the included round brush to wash over the graphite. You will want to make sure not to be sloppy with the water, it is easy to smear the wet graphite from one area into another just as if you were painting. I quickly found that much like watercolor, you will want to start much lighter than you think you need to go and slowly darken your values as you work. The graphite erases easily until you add water. Once the water dissolves that graphite into the paper, it does not erase well at all.
I purchased about 10 different brushes to use with these pencils but found that I only needed the one that came in the set. You can control the look you get with how much water you add to the brush and how much pressure you use as you wash the water over any given area.
Slowly building up details and and darker values in my feathers.
I do recommend using a watercolor paper with these pencils. For my test sample of grapes I used a heavy weight cold press watercolor paper. For my raven, I used Fabriano Artistico Extra White Hot Pressed 140lb watercolor paper. I was quite pleased with the results on both, but the Fabriano will be my go-to paper for future projects with these pencils. I was able to get beautiful detail and smooth blending with this combination. I used masking tape to tape all four edges of my work to my drawing board as I worked so that if the paper buckled at all when adding water, it would dry back into shape. Don’t forget to be careful when you remove the tape so that you don’t rip the paper!
My last tip for using these pencils is to make sure you let each area dry completely before you add your next layer. If you work the pencil over a wet area you will damage your paper.