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Drawing in Dry Media | Drawing Techniques and Media

Updated on April 17, 2013

The dry media vary according to the sources of the pigment and the nature of the binding agent. The quality of the line left by the instrument depends on the friction between the medium and the ground on which it is applied. The texture of the surface abrades the drawing point or edge, picking up small particles of pigment and thereby creating the line or tone.

Charcoal, which is manufactured by the slow carbonizing of sticks of wood (usually willow), is an extremely friable material that crumbles readily when drawn across any textured surface. A broad medium unsuited to fine line drawing, it is ideal for covering wide areas and has a rich tonal range—from the palest gray to pure black, depending on the pressure of application. Compressed charcoal in crayon or pencil form is harder than the natural, or "vine," type.

Historically, the most significant dry medium has been natural chalk. It is found in several colors, but black, white, and reddish chalks are most often used in old master drawings. The particular quality of the chalk depends in part on the deposit from which it is cut. Generally, however, red chalks tend to be harder than black and have been preferred therefore for a neater line and more precise manner of draftsmanship. Artists have often combined several colors of chalk in a single drawing to produce a pictorially rich image, not unlike the chiaroscuro drawings in wet media.


Artificially prepared chalks and pastels are fabricated by mixing a paste of powdered pigments and water-soluble binding agents; this paste is then formed into sticks and dried. Crayons are made in a similar fashion but with an oleaginous binder; their fatty substance leaves a rather different mark than chalk, one that is firmer and chromatically more intense and hence less capable of subtle gradation.

The medium of metalpoint is suited to an extremely fine and delicate manner of drawing. The implement itself is a stylus made of metal—most commonly lead, often silver, and occasionally gold. When drawn across a specially prepared surface, usually a tinted ground, the stylus leaves a delicate line. But the metalpoint is not responsive to variations in pressure, and its line is basically uniform. Popular in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the medium has been little favored since the 16th century.

The modern graphite pencil, in extensive use since the late 17th century, might be considered the successor to the metalpoint. Closer to chalk in its friability, however, it is a much more pliable medium than metalpoint, with a greater chromatic and textural adaptability.


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