I have been drawing with graphite for over forty years, and it is still one of my favorite mediums to work with. Over the past forty years, I have learned many tips on how to keep graphite drawings clean.
I love how you can create photorealistic pencil drawings with soft value changes.
Unlike art with color, greyscale drawings and black and white photographs remind me of a special time in the past.
However, with all the positives of graphite, there is one big problem many artists face: how to keep drawings clean during the drawing process.
I have learned many tips over the past forty years, and learning how to keep my drawings clean was a valuable lesson learned.
In this post, I will share how you can protect your drawings from smudging while drawing.
The tips I will share with you will also work with charcoal and pastels.
How To Keep Graphite Drawings Clean
Below are some helpful tips that I have learned over the years and have helped me to keep my drawing surface clean, so I do not ruin the drawing during the drawing process.
Some are obvious, but hearing it sometimes will prevent a disaster.
Keep Your Drawing Area Clean And Organized
Before starting your drawing project, take a few minutes to clean your drawing table.
Your last project might have left some graphite dust on the table, which will get on your drawing surface and hands.
Keeping your graphite drawings clean will be impossible if they become spoiled before drawing your first line.
Make sure the table is dry before putting your drawing paper on it.
I can not tell you how often I had to start a project because my Strathmore Bristol Board was getting wet and warping.
Another tip is to keep food and drinks away from your drawing table.
If you know me, you know I love coffee. You will always see me with a cup of coffee either in my hands or nearby.
You might see where this is going.
I have ruined more drawings by dripping or dribbling coffee on my drawings.
I only learned how to prevent this from happening by putting my coffee on the other side of the room.
This makes me get up to sip coffee rather than spilling it on my work. An extra benefit is standing up every now and then is healthy.
Over time you will find different habits that will help keep your drawing area clean.
Keep Graphite Drawings Clean By Planning Before You Draw
Some artists draw from the left side of the paper to the right side to prevent their hands from smudging their drawings.
If an artist is lefthanded, they will work from right to left.
I can not draw like this.
I tackle every drawing differently.
I identify where the darkest values are, and I work from there.
I also rotate my paper to make it easier to draw different lines.
Everyone has a different drawing technique, and this is what makes our work unique.
The best way to prevent smudging your paper is by planning before you start.
Decide what you will be doing and when you will be doing it so you can prevent any mistakes.
This brings me to my next tip.
Do Not Rest Your Hand On Your Drawing
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There are two reasons why you should never touch your drawing surface.
The first reason is that the oil on your hand will soil the drawing area, making it impossible to draw smooth value changes.
It does not matter how often you wash your hands before you draw; you will still have oils on your hand that will transfer to your paper.
The second reason is that if your hand touches the graphite, some of the graphite will go on your hands. The next time you touch your drawing surface, the graphite on your hand will be transferred to your drawing surface.
Always have a piece of paper between your hand and the drawing surface to prevent this from happening.
You do not need to purchase anything expensive. I use cheap printer paper.
Be sure to lift the protective paper instead of pushing the protective paper when you are going to work in a different area.
Pushing the paper will spread the graphite like a blending stump does.
Another tip is to always start the day with a clean piece of protective paper.
Purchase Drawing Supplies Online
Purchasing your art supplies is not only cheaper and convenient, but it will also protect your investment over time.
As I have mentioned earlier, the oils and dirt on the hands can damage the drawing paper.
People often touch the drawing paper in local craft stores to feel the texture before purchasing. You will not be able to visibly see the oils transferred on the paper until you start to draw soft values.
The graphite will be darker on the stained area, making it impossible for you to draw soft value changes.
Purchasing your Strathmore Bristol Board online will prevent this from happening.
My two favorite online art stores are Blick and Arteza Art Supplies.
Your drawing styles will determine if you use blending tools or not.
If you like to blend your drawings, never use your fingers to blend.
Like I said earlier, oils and lotion on your hands will destroy your drawing surface.
I use various blending tools, and I will be making a video explaining the different tools I use soon, but until then, below is a list of what I most frequently use.
- Loew-Cornell Blending Stumps
- Cotton Swabs
Storing Your Drawings
Drawing realistic drawings takes many hours to complete. Some of my commissioned drawings have taken me well over 30 hours.
Make sure that you are storing your unfinished drawings in a safe place when you are not working on your project.
I can remember like it was yesterday, I invested 25 hours on a drawing and always kept my unfinished projects on my drawing table. I did this so I could look at the drawing with fresh eyes and discover if there was something that I had to adjust during the next drawing session.
One day I walked into my home studio to find my cat sitting on the drawing. I was hopeful that the drawing surface was not damaged, but unfortunately, there was a scratch on the cheek of the person I was drawing. The drawing was ruined.
It was not my cat’s fault. Cats will sit or lay where ever they wish, and I knew this. Storing unfinished projects was another lesson learned over the years.
For more information on how to store artwork visit, Best Way To Store Artwork For Artists And Art Collectors.
After my cat found a new place to sleep, I decided to research workable fixatives.
A workable fixative is a spray that you apply to a drawing surface. The fixative prevents the graphite from smudging, protecting your project between drawing sessions.
If you decide to use a fixative between drawing sessions, make sure you purchase a Workable Fixative if you continue to work on the project.
A Workable Fixative is a fixative that allows you to continue to add graphite to the drawing surface but prevents it from smudging.
Workable fixatives will allow you to continue to work on your drawing, but it will make it more difficult to erase and blend the graphite with a blending stump after spraying the fixative on the drawing surface.
Read the directions and warnings before using the fixative. Fixatives are potentially hazardous if not used properly.
- Blair Spray Matte Fixative
- Brush And Pencil Advanced Colored Pencil Fixatives
- Krylon Workable Matte Fixative
- Lascaux Fine Art Fixative
- SpectraFix Spray Fixative
How Do I Prevent Pencil Drawings From Smudging
A common struggle many artists face when drawing with pencils is how easily the graphite smudges.
I mentioned earlier:
- Do not rest your hand on the drawing surface
- Best way to store your drawings
- Workable Fixatives
The tips above prevent smudging while drawing, but how can you avoid the graphite from smudging after finishing the pencil drawing?
There are three ways that I protect all of my finished pencil drawings.
The first step is to spray the drawing with a final fixative.
A Final fixative is different than a workable fixative.
You will not be able to continue drawing on a drawing after spraying it with a final fixative. The final fixative is meant to protect the drawing surface and prevent the picture from smudging.
- Blick Gloss Fixative
- Brush And Pencil Advanced Colored Pencil Fixatives
- Grumbacher Final Fixative
- Krylon Gallery Series Fine Art Fixatif
- Lascaux Fine Art Fixative
Shipping Pencil Drawings
Frame your drawings for extra protection during shipping.
The costs of shipping your pencil drawing will be more if you frame the drawing before shipping, but the customer will feel safe purchasing from you because they know you are taking extra care in protecting their investment.
I spray the drawing with a final fixative before I matt and frame the pencil drawing.
The fixative will protect the drawing if the buyer changes the frame.
Purchasing frames for every finished pencil drawing can become very expensive.
I always have two frames on hand, but I do not matt and frame the drawing until it sells.
The price of my drawings includes the cost of the frame.
I spray the drawing with a final fixative and then store it in an art portfolio until it sells.
Storing the finished drawing in an art portfolio eliminates upfront costs,
- Blick Studio Series Softside Portfolio
- Star Products Dura-Tote Portfolios
- Star Products Earth-Friendly Portfolios
- Alvin Elegance Portfolios
- Prat Digital And Art Portfolio
I hope these tips help you to keep your drawings clean.
You spend a great deal of time on your artwork.
Learning how to keep graphite drawings clean during the drawing stage will reduce stress in your life.
You can now feel confident that your drawings will be safe now that you know how to keep graphite drawings clean.
Are you thinking about selling your sketches? Before you get started, research to see how much drawings sell for.
Drawing Supplies I Use For My Drawings
- Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Smooth
- Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Velum
Shading Pencils Set
- General’s Factis Magic Black Eraser
- Tombow Mono Zero Refillable Eraser
- Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Erasers
- Alvin Dry Cleaning Pad
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