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Cathleen Lengyel > Scribbles > Tools > Graphite Pencils > Make Your Work Shine… but not like that!

Make Your Work Shine… but not like that!

Today we’ll be looking at the bane of graphite artists. If you work in graphite you have undoubtedly battled this nemesis known as graphite shine.  It’s that ugly, reflective shine that can occur throughout your work.  In most cases it is an unwanted annoyance, like ants at a picnic. The most common questions are, “how can I avoid graphite shine?” and “what can I do to reduce it once it’s there?” First, let’s take a look at colored pencil principles.  (Trust me, I’m going somewhere.) When artists work in colored pencil a shiny reflective quality is something to strive for in portions of their piece.  An example would be when drawing a piece of fruit such as a cherry, a reflective shine will help with realism.  The shiny or waxy appearance of the skin is something the colored pencil artist strives for and welcomes. How is it accomplished?  By a method called burnishing.  Burnishing is a process reserved for the final layer of your colored pencil work.  It can be achieved through a couple different ways.  One way is to use your colored pencil and push down as hard as possible until the color produces a shine.  Another way is to use a burnishing pencil or blending pencil which are both colorless.  Again the shine is accomplished through heavy pressure which in turn damages the tooth of the paper.   It is because of the damage to the tooth of the paper burnishing is reserved for the final layer of color.  Once your color is burnished it will no longer take any more layers of color. So why is this relevant to graphite artists? It’s relevant because graphite can become shiny for the same reason, heavy pressure.  Pressing too hard with your graphite pencils is one of the main reasons graphite will take on the shine.  Many times when trying to go dark a graphite artist will apply more pressure to the pencil thus damaging the tooth of the paper and overworking the graphite.  Impatience can lead to shine. Much like colored pencil work, graphite tones are created by slowly building up layers.  Carefully with a light hand you gradually layer your graphite working from harder h pencils to softer b pencils until you reach the gray scale value you need. OK, so you used a light hand, hardly any pressure, but there’s still shine!  What’s going on? Despite using gentle pressure your layers may still acquire a shine.  It’s going to happen eventually.  That is because it’s the nature of graphite itself.
Natural Graphite Chunk
Natural Graphite Chunk
As you can see in the photo above, graphite has natural reflective qualities even in it’s raw state.  Graphite can be polished to a high shine quite easily.  When we draw building up our layers the simple friction of the pencil on the previous layers can polish or burnish the graphite.  Frequently over working and reworking an area can cause shine.  Even if you erase the offending area of shine odds are when you lay down a new layer the shine will be there just as before.  Why?  Because the original layers of graphite, then the application of an eraser have damaged the tooth of your paper which in turn make the shine reappear more easily.  It can be a vicious circle. “I need to go very dark in an area of my drawing, but what can I do to prevent the shine?” The simple ways to avoid graphite shine especially in larger areas would be to use either a black colored pencil (be sure it has a good lightfast quality and remember pressing too hard can cause shine), a carbon based pencil or charcoal.  Carbon based pencils will be harder to build up a shine, although it’s entirely possible.  Charcoal pencils will not shine.  No matter how many layers, no matter how hard you push down on that pencil, it will not shine. Ever.  Use charcoal.  It works.  Just sayin’. So you’ve done all you can.  You’ve been incredibly careful with your layering.  Your pencil barely whispered across the paper, but you have shine.  What can you do to get rid of it or reduce it? Getting rid of the shine entirely is pretty much impossible.  You can somewhat reduce the shine by applying a mat fixative after you finish your drawing.  It may take more than one coat, and it may not get rid of all the shine, but it can reduce it. Avoiding the shine (using charcoal for the darkest darks etc) is the best way to prevent it in the first place.   Be proactive, be careful and also realize graphite shine is a part of the process of graphite drawing.  It’s going to happen and it’s not the end of the world when it does.  Did I mention using charcoal?  Oh, ya, right, I did.  Well it does work.  😉 Until next time, Keep Creating! Graphite Photo: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=167480

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