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  • Writer's pictureMakalla Shernick

Dry Drawing Materials

Graphite and Charcoal


Fragile, soft, powdery, dark, messy, metallic/shiny, smudgeable, squeaky, stiff

Supporting Materials

Erasers, sharpener, blending stumps, kneaded eraser, chamois cloth, access to sink and paper towels

Safety & Health Considerations
  • Handle sharp drawing materials safely

  • Use wet sponges to clean workspace

  • Wash hands with soap and water

  • Do not blow charcoal dust

  • Teacher only uses spray fixatives in a ventilated area

Accommodation Possibilities
  • Larger casing around graphite/charcoal can make it easier to hold

  • Offer a variety of different shapes, sizes, hardness, etc.

Appropriate Age Group and Behavioral Expectations

Charcoal and pencils can be used with mostly all ages. Charcoal encased in wood may be safer for younger students because they make less dust/mess. Graphite pencils are accessible and appropriate for all ages. Older students can be expected to use a larger number of graphite pencils to use (H-B range). Young students will need to be supervised and/or assisted when sharpening pencils.

Brands and Associated Quality/Cost

Artist Resource & Project Idea

Heather Hansen is an artist that combines charcoal, dance, and performance. She uses her body to create large scale symmetrical charcoal drawings on paper.

Students will use charcoal to create symmetrical motion drawings, by using a stick of charcoal in each hand and moving each hand in unison on a taped down piece of paper.

After students have made their own drawings, they will partner up on a large piece of paper and continue their symmetrical motion drawings. Except this time students will take turns leading while the other mimics the movements of their partner.

Studio Engagement

This is my creative exploration of both charcoal and pencil.

Portals and Pathways

My research-based artistic exploration revolves around the theme Portals and Pathways. I was inspired by the dark and moody expressive quality that can be achieved with charcoal. In line with my theme, I immediately thought of the foreboding appearance of a dark tunnel. In the drawing below, I used charcoal to depict a receding dark tunnel. To me this represents the fear or anxiety that can come with embarking on a new path in life.

Colored Pencils and Oil Pastels


Smooth, thick, colorful, crumbly, buildable, sticky, waxy

Supporting Materials

Blending stump, colorless pencil blender, sharpener, access to soap and water for hand washing

Safety & Health Considerations
  • Oil pastels are easy to spread onto hands/clothing and should not be ingested

  • Colored pencils can be made to have a sharp point

  • Buildup of colored pencils and pastels can produce dust that shouldn’t be blown into the air and inhaled

Accommodation Possibilities
  • Thicker body pencil/pastels can be used with students with limited motor skills

  • Woodless colored pencils can be used from any angle

  • Organization tools can be used to organize pencils/pastels by color and make them easier and quicker to identify

Appropriate Age Group and Behavioral Expectations
  • K-5 students will be able to safely use and maintain materials. They will be able to experiment creatively with the possibilities of the medium beyond writing application.

  • 6-12 students will have an increased level of familiarity with the mediums. They will begin to experiment with special solvents or blenders that alter traditional application. They will use the materials with more consideration and intention behind color choice.

Brands and Associated Quality/Cost
  • $ Crayola Colored Pencils: These popular student grade colored pencils come in many different colors, are widely used in schools and at home, inexpensive, and nontoxic

  • $$ Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils: These professional grade colored pencils use high quality pigments, are soft and blendable, and expensive.

  • $ Pentel Oil Pastels: These student grade pastels are inexpensive, soft, good pigment, layering is possible without muddying colors.

  • $$ Caran d’Ache Neopastels: These professional grade pastels are dust-less, smooth, highly pigmented, blendable, mixable, soft, and creamy.

Artist Resource & Project Idea

Sid Garrison is an artist from Wichita, KS. Garrison works in only colored pencil and creates abstract drawings.

Students will create a small series of works with an agreed upon set of limitations. They will choose one medium, size of paper, and style or theme of content. Their limitations will be set by them but approved in discussion with the art teacher. This series of work is intended to establish boundaries for more meaningful exploration in their artwork.

Studio Engagement

This is my creative exploration of colored pencils and oil pastels.

Portals and Pathways

My research-based artistic exploration revolves around the theme Portals and Pathways. I was inspired by the bright and vibrant color options that colored pencils and oil pastels has to offer. Color is a powerful means of expressing emotion.

For my research question, I began to think about childhood stories that revolved around a bridge troll impeding on someone's passage or path. In doing some research on bridge trolls, I came across a colossal bridge troll sculpture (named Fremont Troll) in Seattle, Washington that has become a popular tourist destination and photo opportunity. As I did more research on the history of the sculpture, I came to learn that the sculpture was erected in 1989 as an 'arts initiative' to "transform a small, but noticeable eyesore within the neighborhood. The hidden-away location had become a dumping ground for everything from mattresses to needles." I couldn't help but to be deeply disturbed that the people seeking shelter under the Aurora bridge were debased and objectified as "mattresses and needles." Seattle's solution to deter unhoused people from using this bridge as shelter was to erect an ominous, colossal, and foreboding form of hostile architecture (or sculpture in this case).

In my final artwork, I wanted to use color to portray the hostile nature and origins of the Fremont Troll under the Aurora bridge in Seattle, WA.

Studio Reflection

Exploring dry media has revealed many different qualities and characteristics of each medium. I find that with the more experimentation that I do, the more I discover new qualities of the mediums and materials. One unexpected discovery I made during my exploration with dry drawing materials was the expressive potential of charcoal and graphite. Color is often associated with expression in art. However, I found that charcoal and graphite has a unique quality of creating expression more readily, as every mark one makes is full of expressive potential. In color, the expressive quality of lines can be easily overlooked or not attended to by artists like myself. In my own studio exploration, I can see how the lack of color in my charcoal and graphite drawings pushed me towards more experimentation, and subsequently more developed and unique results. On the other hand, my experimentation with color seems a little less ‘experimental’ regarding expressive line qualities.

This dry media exploration was full of fun, surprising, challenging, and sometimes disappointing revelations. I really enjoyed using the charcoal on gray toned charcoal paper. The finer tooth paper made it easier for the charcoals to spread and blend, and the gray tone made it easier to achieve a full shade range quickly. When using a wide tooth white paper, using charcoal was more difficult. The white ground made it more difficult to achieve the same tonal range, and the wider tooth of the paper made it hard to get a very dark and condensed black. Since I used this type of paper for my research themed drawing, I was disappointed with the white speckles that showed through the drawing in the darkest areas because I couldn’t achieve the same quality as my studio explorative drawing. In the future, I will know before I start a charcoal drawing to use a finer tooth and possibly toned paper. This thought extends my own personal curiosity in how using different color toned paper would have on the overall feeling of a charcoal drawing. This is something I will need to explore in future media explorations with graphite or charcoal.

Working with color is an entirely different experience than working with black/gray charcoal and graphite. Color has an immediacy quality that can be difficult to navigate. Working with many colors can be fun and carefree in material exploration. However, in attempting to convey an idea or emotion, choosing color is important and often a difficult decision for any artist. In my own artwork, I tend to work with a limited range of colors. Working with a limited range of colors can better express ideas by creating cohesion throughout an artwork. Also, with a limited range of colors, it is easier to establish lights, darks, and midtones right away. One of the most difficult aspects to working with color is being able to see the tonality of a color, as opposed to its hue. In my themed research drawing, I combine the use of oil pastels and colored pencils. I first drew my drawing with colored pencil, and was very surprised that I could still see clearly the lines of my drawing underneath after I applied the oil pastels. After discovering this, I went back and forth with the colored pencil and oil pastel to achieve a variety of type of lines in my drawing. In this way, I attempted to learn from my media exploration with color and give as equal focus to my mark making as I was the color itself. Color will always be one of the most important elements of visual art, but it takes much practice to utilize color in a way that effectively conveys meaning.

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