Tools needed for drawing portraits in graphite
Staedtler Mars Lumograph
I’m really liking the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 range of pencils at the minute. They have a huge set of 24, ranging from grades 10h (hardest/lightest, to 12b (softest/darkest). Alongside this set, they also have the Mars Lumograph ‘Black’ Pencils. Sold in a tin of 6 ranging from HB to 8B. They’re a mix of graphite and carbon and will provide you with a jet black Matt finish. Derwent pencils are also a fave of mine.
GRAPHITE AND CHARCOAL POWDER
Cretacolour and Generals
I do not generally use these often, but two brands that get great reviews are Generals and Cretacolor. Using either is good for covering larger areas quickly, and highlighting when using powder works really well when it’s been lightly laid down using the dry brush technique.
I love creating all those little details, and as such, I always use Smooth, Heavyweight Paper. I enjoyed using Daler Rowney - Heavyweight- smooth 220g, but then I found Strathmore Bristol Board - Vellum (which is a medium-grain surface but actually quite smooth), and smooth surface - 300 series 270g. There are many different brands out there but if you’re looking to pick up all the little details in a drawing and create smooth skin blends, then a smooth surface is the way to go. The Strathmore is my new go-to paper but I also want to try Canson soon.
ERASERS FOR HIGHLIGHTING
Tombo Mono Zero mechanical eraser
This eraser is fantastic for picking out those really delicate highlights in a portrait. The strands of hair, a twinkle in their eye, pores in the skin etc. I normally use fine grade sandpaper to either bring the 2mm rubber refill to a point or to keep it flat but with a sharper edge by rubbing the pen perpendicular to the sandpaper. You can use a craft knife for this but I find the sandpaper is a bit quicker and easier.
Koh-I-Noor pencil eraser
I use both the Mono and Koh-I-Noor pencil erasers in equal measure. The Ko-I-Noor is a bit softer and they both work great and in a similar fashion. I also use sandpaper to sharpen. You don’t have to press hard at all to bring a little graphite up, but always try to be mindful not to lay the graphite down too hard beforehand.
Derwent or Tihoo
The main difference between these two is the size of rubber. Derwent provides you with a 5mm tube, and Tihoo provides 5mm and 2mm. They both work incredibly well on either graphite or colour pencil, and sandpaper will sharpen to a fine point.
I notice quite a few artists using embossing tools to create indented lines in the paper… for hair highlights etc. The idea is to create lines indented into the paper so when you lightly cover with graphite, it will leave the indented lines white. This method, although effective, Has never really sat well with me. I think because It feels like I’m damaging the paper.
Roll of tissue/make up cotton pad/cotton buds/brushes/blending stump/chamois leather
I use most of these for different aspects of the portrait which I’m working on. For example, I’ll use a roll of ordinary bathroom tissue or chamois leather to really smooth out the layers of skin. However, this technique takes up a little graphite so if I need darker values I might start using a filbert or makeup brush as this doesn’t take away the darker shades of graphite you just laid down. Blending stumps come in all different sizes and are good for detail smoothing, as are cotton buds.
I use Rotring mechanical pencils every now and again to do those intricate spots on a portrait-like eyebrows, lashes, straight hair etc. You can buy different value refills, and different size pencils. There are many brands out there that do a great job, but these are quite inexpensive to buy.
I can remember when I very first started using one of these, and I couldn’t really see the benefit. But... this little gem can be a lifesaver. Whether you’re rolling the end into the finest of points to delicately lighten a tiny spot of graphite, or you’re using it like a ball to soften larger edges, it’s a great tool to have in your kit, and I love it! It’s basically like putty, it doesn’t leave bits all over your paper, and it even cleans itself :)
FINE GRAIN SAND PAPER
This is another item that I love to have laying on my studio table. As mentioned above, it’s great for sharpening your equipment... it’s a great time saver. It’s also good to sharpen and clean your blending stumps. You can even use it to scribble whatever shade of graphite you need directly onto the sandpaper, to create a powder. This is good if you want to use the dry brush technique - great for covering large areas with graphite or to create smooth blends.
Posca paint pen (bullet shaped nib)
I don’t normally get along with paint pens. Maybe I’m expecting them to behave how they’re not meant to behave!? However, I like the Posca ‘bullet nib’ pen but I only use this for that sparkle in the eye, or shine on the lips.
DESKTOP PENCIL SHARPENER
I love using a desktop pencil sharpener. Not only do they provide a really sharp tip, but they also pretty much negate broken leads. You can get motorised ones but I use a traditional hand-operated one. Cost approx £15.
I hope you found this helpful and would love to hear your thoughts. Stay tuned for information on drawing techniques :)