The Graphite/Carbon Cougar

“Until you take time to discover yourself, you never know what you can achieve or how far you can go”

― Sunday Adelaja


It is sometimes one of the most difficult things for us to find. As someone who owns my own business, I often think it is even harder for me and for people in similar circumstances.

For years we have been driven to work on our business and ensure that it will be successful and grow. For myself, this has been the case for most of my adult life. There were those in my life that were close to me and less than supportive of my work that used to tell me that I should get a ‘real job’ instead of being an artist and designer. But I knew that nothing else would make me truly happy. Instead of being discouraged by their disapproval, I was driven harder by it. It gave me yet another reason to push myself as hard as I could so that I could prove them wrong and succeed.

I think that I achieved that. While I am not what most would consider wealthy in a financial sense of the word, I honestly believe that spiritually and emotionally I am happier than most. And that is what really matters to me. I see so many people that are miserable on a daily basis because they are doing jobs that they dislike and their main goal in their lives is to retire. While I realize that I put in many more hours than if I had a ‘real job’, I also feel that I am pretty happy doing so. I love what I do and the success that I have had has been fulfilling and meaningful to me. I like to think that by doing what I do, I am helping bring something positive to peoples’ lives (art and creating) and that in itself is a reward. That helps fuel me on the days when I am overwhelmed or tired or ‘flat’ and I feel that overall, I made the right decision for me. I have no regrets.

But as things grow and get busier, it is sometimes difficult to keep everything balanced. A couple of years ago when the painting and surfaces side of my business really started catching on, there were days when it felt that it was hard to stay in control. It still isn’t really feasible for me to take on workers to help for a variety of reasons, and keeping the business viable while also allowing me time to continue to learn and enjoy life was probably my biggest challenge. I saw myself being so busy all the time that I was really becoming tired and I began worrying about how I would manage things if I continued to grow. So I sat down and took some time off and decided to implement some changes that would keep me busy, but also allow me to take some time for my own personal ‘playtime’ where I could explore, learn, and relax. It wouldn’t be easy to do.

But so far this year I have been feeling pretty good about things. Those little shifts in my behavior and my job strategies are really actually paying off. I have remained on track regarding keeping my daily ‘work’ hours reasonable, and I have been spending more time not only on my own personal artwork but also with my sweetie and spending more quality time with him. I am beginning to think this could work after all.

Yesterday, I put a pretty full day of work in. I packed orders in the morning, cut some more orders in the afternoon, and even had time to take a walk at the shore with Keith. The sun was out and while it was still a little cool and breezy, it felt great to be out on the coastline in the fresh air. It was a perfect day.

I had received a delivery of some pencils that I ordered the previous week from Amazon. In my quest for learning how to draw and paint better, I have been trying to concentrate on working on the values of my paintings a bit more. (The lights and darks.) Most teachers agree that this is one of the most important things to achieve true realism in our artwork. Values are one of the main building blocks of drawing and painting, and without a clear understanding of them, I don’t think we can be successful.

I had done some paintings using tinted graphite (from Derwent – Graphitint pencils) previously and I enjoyed that very much. You can see the lion that I painted in my previous blog post HERE. I also more recently tried tinted charcoal pencils – again by Derwent – to paint a beautiful Red Deer. (Reference photo for the deer is by Terrence Porter.)

I loved the simplicity of the drawing and also the depth that I achieved with such few colors and strokes. I was beginning to realize that everything doesn’t have to take 20 hours or more to look nice. I loved working with the charcoal and it was fun and relaxing to paint this. I wanted to explore this medium more.

So I went to YouTube and searched for “charcoal painting tutorials” and I came across some tutorials which featured a pencil line by Staedtler called “Mars Lumograph Black” pencils. They intrigued me because they are a composition of both graphite and carbon, so there was far less ‘sheen’ in them than straight-up graphite, and they would also achieve blacker blacks. This allows a better ability for a more striking contrast. Another benefit is because of the graphite/carbon blend, the pencils would be less ‘chalky’ and ‘crumbly’ when drawing. There was far less dust and the drawings were a bit more stable, yet you were still able to soften the shading by blending.

Add to that, they are relatively inexpensive. Amazon had a set of six shades of black in a nice little tin for under $20 CDN. I had to try them.

So when they arrived yesterday afternoon, I was thrilled that I was on top of things and I thought I would give them a test run after supper. I swatched them out and the texture was slightly grittier than graphite pencils, yet they were quite a bit darker. They took well to firm pressure and there were few if any crumbs – even when I pushed really hard. When I tried to smudge them with my finger, they did seem to blend a bit, although not as much as the charcoal pencils that I was used to using. That was to be expected.

I used a photo from one of my favorite photographers: Tombako The Jaguar on Flickr, who had given me permission to use his beautiful photos for my artwork and drawing. (I had used his photo for my pastel of Marthe, the Caracal that I showed in a previous post.) This time I chose “Sigi” – a beautiful cougar for my subject. He was simple and beautiful and I thought would make a nice study.

I used Canson Mi-Teintes paper that was toned grey from one of the homemade sketchbooks that I made earlier this year. I had made several smaller sketchbooks with many of my specialty papers in the hopes of making smaller, less significant drawings and paintings. I think when I make larger pieces that are so detailed, it adds a lot of pressure to be ‘perfect’. I wanted to keep these books at hand and actually USE them in the evenings when I only had an hour or two to play and learn. If things didn’t turn out – no big deal. I had to reset my mind to the point where I can make mistakes and even messes and not feel bad about it. Otherwise, I would never learn. I so admire all these artists who fill their sketchbooks with fun and quirky drawings and paintings. To me, that is really a wonderful habit to get into.

I put on a show and started at about 8pm and just ‘drew’ with my pencils. Less than two hours later, here is the result of my efforts:

I am not unhappy with it, considering it was the first time using this medium.

I used a bit of white charcoal for the white areas and whiskers, but other than that, I used the Mars Lumograph Black pencils exclusively. In that short two hours, I learned a great deal about them.

The first thing I learned was that I think it would be best to do the next painting on smoother paper. While I wanted the cougar to have texture, I think that it was a bit more pronounced than I would have wanted it, considering I wanted to keep this drawing to a minimum:

You can see a clear example of the texture in the above photo. This was even after I tried to blend it a bit. In order to blend in completely, I would have had to lay down much more material and fill up the tooth of the paper more. But I still don’t think it looks bad. I understand that I could possibly blend with a damp brush using water, but I like this enough to leave it for now and experiment on another piece for another day with that. the water will carry the carbon/graphite into the crevices of the paper and fill it in, I expect.

I decided to pull out my Faber Castell 9000 series graphite pencils and compare the same pencil numbers side by side. Following is the result:

You can see the graphite Faber Castell pencils are quite a bit lighter than the Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black pencils, as expected.

I also tilted the sheet to try to show you the amount of shine. You can see the 2B and 4B of the Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black pencils still have a sheen to them. this is because there is a higher ratio of graphite to carbon in these lighter colors. They are (naturally) a little bit harder, too, but they still layout quite smooth, like the Faber Castell 9000s.

The final comparison I did was to see how well they erased.

I tried using equal pressure and my Tombow Mono eraser to erase as cleanly as I could. This is how many of the highlights are replaced when drawing with graphite. As you can see, the Faber Castell did a little better in that department, which is again expected as the graphite would come off the paper easier than the carbon, which seemed to embed in the pores of the paper a little deeper. (By the way – the paper I used for this sample card was just a plain post-it. Results will vary depending on which paper you use.)

So overall, I really love this set of pencils. I am going to continue to explore using them and trying them on different paper and using different products with them. I think with my next drawing, I will use smoother paper and see how well things will blend and lift on that. I also would like to try to use these to paint a ‘framework’ of a subject and then maybe add some color with either colored pencils or my tinted charcoal pencils. And I want to see how they respond to blending with a damp brush and water, too. I think they offer a lot of great possibilities.

It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get excellent quality supplies that are wonderfully versatile. Even though I love color, I am truly excited about these six little black pencils. They will open a lot of possibilities for my creativity and are portable, affordable, and fun. I am guessing, but because of the carbon content, I would think they are quite lightfast too. I will have to look into that.

Finding playtime is really an important part of my life. While my partner often says to me that my ‘play’ looks a lot like my ‘work’, those of us who do what I do know that there is a big difference between the two. Creativity isn’t something that you can turn on and off with a switch. It comes from deep inside and a real desire to watch an idea come to life. Many times during that creation process, we find ourselves learning, too. And that knowledge we gain from our play sessions can be applied to our work as well. What a nice bonus that is!

I am so happy that I am committed to finding some balance in my life. At this very moment, I have four projects on the go at once. They are all in different mediums and all have different goals, but they are all fun and I am excited about each of them. There may even be some ‘work’ tucked in the mix. I am very fortunate for the life I have. There isn’t a day that I am not grateful.

I hope you enjoyed seeing this unscientific comparison of these pencils. I am sure you will see me using them again.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these if you have used them.

Until next time . . .

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Love the drawing. I don’t draw, but do like looking at your work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I am more of a “fill-er-in-er” than a drawer. But I keep practicing. My goal this year was to improve my drawing skills. Little by little . . . 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The cougar looks fabulous Sheila. Thank you for the great information on the pencils. You always give very useful tips for anyone experimenting in their creativity


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