Choose a language
Use Arthive in the language you prefer
Sign up
Create an account
Register to use Arthive functionality to the maximum


549 artworks, 91 artists
Graphite pencil (aka ordinary pencil) is the most popular tool for a novice artist. It is used everywhere: at school and in everyday life, they draw with it and use it for making notes. However, this object, ordinary in its appearance and function, only became known to people in the 16th century — more precisely, graphite itself, as one of the modifications of carbon.
According to historians, once a strong storm broke out in the English county of Cumberland, which knocked down many trees. A black mass was found under the roots of some of them, which left distinct spots on various objects. Local shepherds began to mark sheep with it, and a little later, people made thin sticks of this substance — that turned out to be graphite. To prevent hands from getting dirty, the sticks were wrapped in paper, clamped between branchlets, or wrapped around with a thin string. This is how the first graphite pencils looked like.
Before the invention of the graphite pencil, artists created drawings with so-called silver pencils — thin wires wound on the stick that left fine, clear lines on paper. The drawing made with such a pencil could not be corrected, as the lines could not be erased. Lead pencils had the same property. By the 14th century, thin sticks were made of black slate mixed with vegetable adhesives, they called it Italian pencil.
The first mention of a wooden pencil dates back to 1683, and their production began in 1719. In 1758, the German carpenter Kaspar Faber began producing graphite pencils in the Bavarian city of Stein, and the famous Faber-Castell company was founded.
Graphite was of strategic importance and was used, among other things, in weapon industry. Therefore, the British government banned the export of Cumberland graphite, which was considered the best in Europe. Revolutionary France, which suffered from the economic blockade in 1794, was left without pencils. How to replace graphite? This task was entrusted to the designer, artist and inventor Nicolas-Jacques Conté. After some experiments, Conté came up with a mixture of graphite and clay, which was heated and placed inside a wooden cylinder, dissected lengthwise. Later, Conté received a patent and opened the Conté pencil factory.
Different proportions of graphite and clay made it possible to obtain pencils of different hardness, which artists and draftsmen liked very much, as it allowed them to make their drawings more expressive. Graphite pencils are hard and soft. European pencils are marked with the letters H, B and HB — medium hardness. Marking H and B is accompanied by numbers: the larger the number, the higher the hardness or softness of the pencil. The same applies to the Soviet marking symbols, which used the letters T, M, TM, with T meaning hard, and M soft.
The technique of graphite pencil drawing is quite simple; almost any paper is suitable for it. The harder the lead, the more it scratches the paper and the more difficult it is to erase the lines with an eraser. Graphite pencils are used to create sketches and studies, and the drawing technique can be different: contour, volumetric with shading, picturesque, hyper realistic. Each artist chooses himself the hardness of pencils, depending on the tasks set, the sharpening angle also depends on them. As a rule, graphite pencil is used for small-sized drawings; charcoal is used for larger sketches.
Famous artists who used pencils in their work: Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein Jr., John Ruskin, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Peter Paul Rubens, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Thomas Gainsborough, Louis Wayne, Ilya Repin.
Famous pencil drawings:
Chigi Palace and Church of Bernini, Ariccia, Italy, 1841 by John Ruskin
The Siesta, 1866, Jean-François Millet
Old Woman with a Shawl and a Walking Stick, 1882, Vincent van Gogh
Leo Tolstoy working at the round table, 1891, Ilya Repin
In Sunny Spain, 1911, Louis Wayne
Le Pont-Neuf, 1932, Norman Rockwell
Portrait of Françoise, 1946, Pablo Picasso