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Drawing materials

by Robert Cumming

For this competition I have chosen six drawings which have been made with different implements and different materials. I I invite you to try and identify which has been used for each drawing.

To help you make the choice here is some information that should help with the identification. You need to look closely but also recreate in your mind the physical feel of each implement and material.

For example, writing with a fountain pen is a different experience from writing with a ballpoint pen and each produces a quite distinctive mark. Even the best pen nibs tend to scratch the surface of the paper and this friction and the need to wait for the ink to flow means that the hand movement will be relatively slow. A ballpoint pen with its greasy ink tends to slide rapidly over the surface of the paper and the line tends to be more rapid. I am aware, personally that my handwriting is better formed when I write with a fountain pen than with a ballpoint.

The writing surface also affects the appearance of the mark. An ink stroke or a ballpoint pen stroke looks different on a high quality textured paper which offers some resistance and does not absorb the ink compared with a cheap paper that offers no resistance and soaks up liquid like blotting paper.


Chalk is crushed rock mixed with gum and pressed into the form of a stick. It is most commonly seen in its familiar white form used on black boards but you can also use it on paper. If you want the technical details: in white chalk the rock is calcium carbonate; in black chalk it is carbonaceous shale: and in red chalk it is haematite. Red chalk is sometimes called sanguine which is the French word for bpaper and this deposit can be smudged with the finger. Sometimes an artist will choose to do this. To prevent unwanted smudgings after the drawing is finished it may be necessary to spray the drawing with a bs sharpened into a point or left blunt.

Pen and Ink

The metal pen nib was not invented until the 18th century, and was not widely used until the second quarter of the 19th century. The earliest pens were made from reeds, cut with a sharp knife and shaped into a nib. They were effective but not very flexible and produced strong lines with distinctive patterns of broadening and narrowing. Quill pens made from feathers superseded reed pens because they were more flexible and longer lasting. Goose quills were the most common. Raven or crow feathers were chosen for the finest work. Before the invention of the fountain pen with its reservoir of ink, the pen had to be dipped into ink at frequent intervals. There was a limit to the length of line that could be made before the ink ran out, and this and the scratchy quality of the pen nib will be apparent.

The two most frequently used inks in old master drawings are bistre and iron gall. Bistre was made from chimney soot dissolved in wine, water or a child's urine. The colour varies according to the sort of wood, which produced the soot, but generally it has a warm transparent brown tone. Iron gall ink was a cocktail of iron sulphate, gall nuts and gum arabic. Originally black in appearance it turned brown with the passage of time. Iron gall tends to be acid and therefore to eat into the paper. For this reason it was much used in early legal documents because the way that the ink ate into the paper fibres meant that the writing could not be erased by scraping or washing.

Lead pencil

The familiar lead pencil contains no metallic lead. The writing medium is graphite, which is a form of carbon. The first writing instrument made from a stick of graphite inserted into a wooden tube was introduced in about 1560. In 1795 a French chemist, Nicholas Jacques ContC) patented a new process for making lead pencils by mixing powdered graphite and clay which he hardened in a furnace. From this developed the modern lead pencil. The band hardness and can be sharpened into a very fine point or left blunt. By and large however the line produced will be relatively fine and continuous. It will also vary with hand pressure and this will be visible in a drawing made with a lead pencil.


A pastel is a stick of colour made from powdered pigment bound with resin or gum. The colours are usually pale and chalky, and the marks are soft and fragile. They can be worked or smudged with the fingers and different colours can be blended together. The softness means that outlines can be made as long flowing lines. Areas of colour are usually produced by applying short strokes that can be left as they are or blended with the fingers. A fixative needs to be applied to protect the fragile material, although the fixative will probably dull the original brightness of the colours. The heyday for pastels was the 18th century although their use was revived at the end of the 19th.