Graphite Study 001: Graphite pencils and force applied on paper (Faber Castell 9000 series on printer paper 80 gsm)

Generally, drawing instruction books and tutors recommend soft pencils (2B, 3B or 4B or even 6B) for sketching and drawing. Hard pencils which include 2H to HB are thought to “damage” the surface of the paper as a result of excessive force (or pressure) and or the hardness of the graphite pencil lead.

1.0    Objective

The aim of this experiment was to study the approximate force applied (which approximately correlates to pressure = force/area) on the surface of the paper when shading circles with Faber Castell 9000 graphite pencils. This study would allow me to explore the general statements on pressure application on paper during the drawing process. Please note due to the limitation of equipment, this experiment and the findings should be read as approximate or general findings rather than absolute statements.

2.0 .   Materials & Methods

2.1     Materials

Printer Paper (Papyur Rainbow 80 gsm, Fawn colour), Faber Castell 9000 series set (2H-8B), a mechanical pencil sharpener, a pair scissors, digital weighing scales (2 decimal place), purchased from Ebay for 2 euros, calibrated with reference weights), Masking tape, Lab stand (to hold camera/phone during the experiment, IPhone 5 SE (for capturing video footage), Blu Tack (for fixing the digital scales, lab stand), lab gloves, Infrared Thermometer (Broadcare GM320, purchased from Amazon)

2.2    Experimental Setup

I wore gloves to prevent any grease marks or contamination transferring onto the test paper pieces during the experiment.
I cut some rectangular pieces (4 cm x 4.5 cm) of drawing paper (Papyrus Rainbow 80 gsm paper Fawn colour) using a pair of scissors. Then I placed a lid from my Vöslauer mineral water bottle and drew a circle in the middle of the rectangular piece. The resulting circle has a diameter of 3.1 cm, then I fixed the test paper pieced on a small kitchen/jewellers digital weighing scale (2 decimal places) using very narrow strips of masking tape.
The digital scales were also fixed with some Blu Tack to the table top so that it didn’t move during the experiment. The IPhone was held in place with a clamp/lab stand and it was aligned to capture both the test piece fixed on the weighing scale and the display screen.
The Faber Castell 9000 series were brand new, and I sharpened them using my mechanical pencil prior to the experiment.

2.3   Running the experiment

I checked the surface temperature of the paper piece using my infrared thermometer, before and after shading.
I began capturing the video footage prior to shading the circle on the test piece. During the experiment, I was trying not to look at the digital display and I tried using my personal judgement to apply even pressure while shading the circle.
All test pieces were shaded in one sitting, to avoid changes in humidity or room temperature.

2.4  Data collection

The video captured from these experiments were played back at a slower speed and I transferred the data time vs weight in a spread sheet (Numbers on my Imac). I took an average of 3 readings.

3.0   Observations and Results:

The humidity and room temperature did not vary during the experiment. I plotted weight (gram) against time (second) for each experiment undertaken, and this is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 01: Weight (g) applied with a range of Faber Castell 9000 series while shading a circle on printer paper (80 gsm) as a function of time (second). (FC is an abbreviation for Faber Castell 9000 series)

During the experiment, I was fairly convinced that I was applying similar pressure while shading. But it is clear from the graph, that may be misleading. For all grades of pencils, weight increases as a function of time, this is perhaps due to the fact that the pencil is gradually moving towards me so this results in more force applied to the paper.
I will conduct another experiment in which I will shade the circle in the reverse direction to prove or disprove my hypothesis.

Interestingly, I applied less pressure onto the paper when I was shading with harder pencils. What was interesting however, was with the softer pencils 2B onwards where I was really struggling to apply less force on the paper with my pencils. With very soft pencils the pencil felt like it was floating on the paper but the graph shows that the force (ie, the weight) applied was about the same if not more.

4.0    Conclusions
Assuming that using my personal judgement (or perception) I applied the same weight (or force or pressure) while shading the circles with pencils with varying hardness. My findings so far are as follows:
Hard pencils may damage the paper because of the hardness of the pencil lead rather than the perception/feeling of applying higher force or pressure.
I perceived that I applied less force or pressure while shading with softer pencils, but the graph shows that I may have applied more force on to the paper. This perception is perhaps due to the fact that the graphite easily transfers onto the paper surface, the feeling is like melting butter on a piece of toast. This encouraged me to easily drag my pencil across the paper.
Drawing with softer pencils actually may indicate that higher pressure is applied on the paper surface compared to shading with harder pencils.

5.0   Future Work
I will repeat the experiment with different drawing papers, primarily Fabriano Artistico Hot Press.
I will also report my observations of these test pieces when I study them under my usb microscope and I will measure the intensities of the graphite laid on the test pieces using my IR spectrometer soon.

6.0   Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Faber Castell for their permission (E-mail correspondence with Herr. Holger Unfried, Product Manager, A. W. Faber Castell Vertrieb GmbH) to share my experimental work freely.


In this blog, I would like to share my experiences in drawing and painting. I have a strong background in chemistry and my expertise lie in hydrocolloids, physical and analytical chemistry (PhD and postdoctoral projects). I left the field few years ago for various reasons. I am now studying drawing and painting on my own and with the help of online support tutors who provide me critique. As a scientist, it is difficult for me to separate the role of art materials (such as paper, paints, etc) from the drawing and painting experience itself. I don’t have access to high tech analytical equipment, but I have some inexpensive devices and passion.

I am also a vegan and personally I do my best to avoid art materials which contain animal-based raw materials or if the products have been tested on animals. I will share my experiences in commercial art materials which have been declared as suitable for vegans. Often I get asked “why should you care whether paints or pencils contain animal-based raw materials when you are not going to eat them?”. My answer is that I am trying my best not to hurt animals in any way I can. I am doing the best I can, it’s in no way perfect but what matters to me certainly, is that I am trying.

I will discuss my first hand experiences and thoughts on art materials (both commercially available as well as home-made/ DIY approaches) in a future post. My tutors consider this an interesting side-project, and urge me to concentrate on developing my technical drawing and painting skills primarily. At first, I was a bit disheartened as I worked rather hard to gather information and undertake initials studies. I think this maybe of interest to some people at least.

I believe that the spirit of the drawing and painting is linked to how we relate to the art materials. However, the general approach is it doesn’t matter how you make a drawing and painting the role of art materials is marginal. A skilled artist will make a masterpiece or close to it with inexpensive art materials, while an amateur will make a mess even with the most expensive and high quality materials. However, I think that my approach which seems “too intense” and “critical” is not wrong either. For example, Albrecht Dürer and J.W.M. Turner undertook ongoing research into art materials throughout their artistic career.

I am trying to make progress on both the nature of art-materials, and the drawing and painting process (interaction with art-materials). I am learning to draw and paint so I will share my attempts at drawing and painting.