Drawing Basics: Pencil Drawing & the Pull of Black and White

People develop strong feelings about their pencils.

I can never think of graphite pencils without thinking about Sherry Camhy, an intriguing artist and instructor in New York City who thinks and feels a lot about her pencils, even going so far as to name them. Her dedication pays off; Camhy coaxes some amazing effects out of her graphite pencils, especially in her pencil sketching series in which she used soft pencils (with a higher graphite content) to make shiny marks on black paper, effectively using the dark-gray lead of a graphite pencil to make the light marks on a darker ground.

Pencil drawing is just part of a larger appeal: black-and-white images. Artists as varied as Robert Longo, Wim Wenders, the Coen Brothers, Annie Leibovitz, and Andrew Wyeth have all abandoned color at one point or another to explore the stark, expressive power of black-and-white images. This effect–more accurately described as grayscale in most cases–can evoke nostalgia, documentary-style realism, or the film-noir genre. This simpler, more direct method of visually communicating can put the emphasis on the content rather than on the visual splendor of the image.

It reminds me of the sentiment expressed by Sophie Jodoin, an artist profiled in the Spring 2009 issue of Drawing magazine, who told the article's author, John A. Parks, that she made a conscious decision about five years ago to only create work in black and white, heartened by a similar decision Käthe Kollwitz (18671945) made as a young artist. “I love color and I love to look at colored work,” said Jodoin. “But maybe it’s too much for my brain. Color is a layer that I don’t need or I don’t wish to deal with. Perhaps I prefer drawing to painting because I get to the core of things more quickly. I can zero in faster on what’s interesting for me.”

Scroll-diers by Sophie Jodoin, Conté drawing on Mylar

by Sophie Jodoin, Conté drawing on Mylar.

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Bob Bahr

About Bob Bahr

Hi. I'm the managing editor of American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing, and Workshop magazines. Drawing magazine is primarily my responsibility so I spend a lot of time looking at drawings, talking with draftsmen, and drawing ... but I love to paint, too.