Monday, January 1, 2018

Plein Air Painting Essential Tools: 6B Graphite Pencil

Value Sketch Showing Marks Made by 6B Graphite Pencil

I thought I'd start the new year off right with a new blog post.  In the past, I've written about essential tools for the plein air painter.  One tool I forgot to write about—which surprises me, considering how much I stress it in my workshops—is a 6B graphite pencil.

Most of us outdoor painters carry a small sketchbook for value sketches, for jotting down notes about the scene before us, and sometimes even for grocery lists.  What we choose to make these sketches and notes with, however, varies greatly from painter to painter.  Some like ballpoint pens; some, felt-tip markers; but I prefer a 6B graphite pencil.

A 6B pencil has a very soft lead.  It allows me to make not just a very light mark but also a very, very dark one.  When I make my value sketches, I liked to “sneak up” on the darks.  When I start a sketch, most times I haven't quite figured out my value structure yet, and starting off with a light touch with the 6B lets me explore a little before committing to my darkest values. You can't do this so easily with a set of grey felt-tip markers, and a ball point pen tends to get messy when darkening darks.  I've included a small example above, a value study I made of a painting by my late mentor, Ann Templeton, which I own.

You can get these pencils in the traditional wood case, but you can also get them as leads and use a holder.   Here's a photo of these items.

Top:  A case of 4B leads for the holder (6B is preferred, but Staedtler
doesn't make them, but there are other brands)
Middle:  Staedtler Mars Technico lead holder
Bottom: ProArt 6B pencil

By the way, I'll show you exactly how I use the 6B pencil in my plein air painting workshops.  I have lots of workshops coming up, including my intensive one-on-one study, my March Sedona (Arizona) all-level workshop, as well as workshops coming up in Maine.  Workshops are starting to fill, so don't delay!

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