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Soft Drawing Materials

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How to Use Soft Drawing Materials

By Alexander Ryzhkin

Soft drawing materials are very sensitive to pressure, maybe 10 or 20 times more than a graphite pencil. With soft drawing materials, every small movement of a hand can result in bolder strokes, so you need to feel the hand pressure very well. Your hands need to be warm, because with cold hands it's harder to feel the pressure.

Soft Drawing Materials

What are soft drawing materials? If you are used to working in graphite pencil, there is no need to explain what a pencil is, but soft materials are quite specific, and artists use them to achieve their aim faster.

When you are comfortable with graphite pencil, the next step is to learn how to draw with chalks or pastel. There is a wide choice of chalks from various manufacturers. For example, here are Faber Castel chalks—sepia and sanguine. They are pressed and therefore good for beginners because they are not so soft. They differ greatly from graphite and are very versatile. There are also chalks available in wooden cases; they feel more like a pencil, but today we will talk about traditional chalk sticks.

How to Use Soft Drawing Materials - Life Drawing Academy

The main characteristic of a chalk is its soft density—even a light touch of chalk on paper will make a visible mark. That is why pressure on a chalk has to be very, very light. In addition, chalk can be smudged very easily. With chalks, it is more convenient to draw not with strokes but by smearing the medium on paper, spreading it in gradations of tones.

For spreading soft chalks, you can use a piece of cloth. Any strong cloth will do—a piece of unprimed cotton canvas, for example. Alternatively, a piece of paper towel or a napkin will do the same job, but paper will not serve as long as cloth. Also, a fabric will gradually absorb particles of chalk dust and become a drawing tool on its own. With a dusty cloth, you can make some faint marks on paper, which can be very handy when you need soft gradations or light tones.

Soft drawing mediums can be erased, usually with a rubber eraser: either hard white rubber or soft, kneaded eraser. You need to keep in mind, though, that soft drawing materials behave differently on areas that have been erased heavily. Also, you need to remember that it is almost impossible to erase soft chalks completely because tiny particles of chalk dust get deep into the paper's fibers. When drawing with soft drawing materials, it is a good habit to be more careful and to keep erasing to a minimum.

There are some specific ways of working with soft drawing materials that I will now demonstrate. To begin with, you may break off a small piece of chalk from the big stick if you don't want to draw with a big piece.

Drawing with the full stick is good when you do lines with its tip. You can even break up the tip from time to time to keep it sharp. The line in chalk is very bold and strong. It is a good practice to soften lines with a finger or cloth. This takes off some excess pigment from the paper as well as spreading the line if you do it with cloth. There is a method of spreading the line not lengthwise but sideways. This way, the pigment will smear to one side of the line, leaving other side clean. It can also be done either with finger or cloth. You can repeat the line and smudge sideways to increase the gradation.

There is another way to draw lines—not with the tip of the chalk, but with its side edge. In this case, the line can be slim and uniform, or, if you rotate the chalk along the way, you can achieve varying width of the line. This will give a wide "palette" of artistic lines. The term "palette of lines" means "gamut" in this case. This term was used by my drawing teacher.

The pressure on chalk can be varied to makes lines darker or lighter. So, why do we smear lines when drawing with soft drawing materials? If we leave lines un-smudged, an eraser will smudge pigment from side to side. However, should you first take off extra dust with a finger or cloth, erasing with rubber will be easier. This tip works for different widths of lines. Here it is again: erasing un-smudged lines can be challenging. An eraser leaves blotched marks rather than taking pigment off paper. Maybe such marks are what you wanted for your creative purposes.

There is another way of using soft drawing materials. A chalk can be ground, the pigment dust collected into a box, and a cloth dipped into that box to draw with dust on paper. This gives nice and soft mid-tones. Then, using an eraser, one side of such a toned area can be corrected. This way, it is possible to draw with only values, without lines. All depends on your creative approach and your favorite way of drawing. You can gradually build tonal values or build up drawing to its full strength from the first strokes.

Drawing with soft materials is very flexible. It is totally possible to draw using hatching of lines, as you do with graphite pencils, or draw with a side of the chalk, toning wide areas in one stroke. Without smudging, marks of chalk reveal the texture of paper. When marks are smeared with cloth, toned areas become smoother in texture. Tonal values can be built gradually in several layers.

Smudging marks with a finger gives different effect than smudging with cloth. Because a finger has some grease, it doesn't take off as much pigment as cloth. Instead, particles of pigment are forced deeper into the paper's fibers, and tonal values remain deep. Also, it will be harder to erase such marks thereafter. When smudging with cloth, most of the pigment particles are wiped off or transferred into the piece of cloth. This makes marks and lines lighter. It is helpful when some erasing is needed. So it is important to know what effect you want to achieve—leave the line or erase it? Then you can smudge with either a finger or cloth...

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