How to Fix a Graphite Drawing

How to Fix a Graphite Drawing
How to Fix a Graphite Drawing

The most expensive graphite drawing has been priced a little over $10,000. Unlike other forms of drawing, using graphite allows for more realistic drawings. This is because it allows an artist to highlight the finer details of whatever piece they are working on. Whether you are trying to create an award-winning piece or merely indulging your curiosity, the finesse of graphite drawings tends to mask the high levels of technique required.

You need to differentiate between the different tools in the market and learn which tools will best bring out your vision. After all this, you need to know the do's and don'ts when drawing and storing your artwork.

If you need a reminder on all these things or if you have just started, herein are the most common problems you'll face when drawing using graphite and how to fix them:

  • Smudging your drawing in storage
  • Smudging your drawing while working on it
  • Getting a yellow color in your drawing
  • Getting a shiny appearance in your drawing
  • Having a rough drawing
  • Having a dirty drawing

Your Drawing Gets Smudged Over Time

Due to the nature of graphite, your drawing will stand the risk of smudging or fading. This happens due to improper storage, contact with another surface, or aging of the drawing. To prevent these problems, you should use a fixative.

Fixatives can either be regular or workable. A workable fixative is one that you use while you continue to create your artwork. You can apply several layers of a workable fixative as you continue to work. A final fixative is one that you use after you have completed your drawing. Excessive use of a final fixative can change the appearance of your drawing. When using a fixative, you have to be careful about what type and brand you choose. Choosing the wrong fixative can alter your drawing's appearance by adding too much shine or changing a color's appearance.

Other factors to consider when choosing a fixative is the presence of odor, the rate at which the fixative dries, and how water resistant the fixative is. It goes without saying that no one wants to own a drawing that always has a funny smell. The less the odor in any fixative, the higher its usability. For the other two factors, the objective is not to get your paper/ canvas soaked. If a fixative dries too slowly, it will seep onto your material and ruin your drawing. If the fixative is not water-resistant again, any contact with water means your drawing is ruined.

It is difficult to find a fixative brand with all the qualities mentioned above; it is not water-resistant if it is quick-drying. You, therefore, have to decide what features you are willing to compromise on. Another hack would be to change your method of application to make up for some of the deficiencies. You can increase the distance between the bottle and the painting for a final fixative so that you don't get too much on it.

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Your Drawing Gets Smudged As You Continue Drawing

Your drawing can not only get smudged in storage but also as you are working on it. It can become annoying, especially if it is still too early in the drawing to use any form of fixative. Here are some tips to follow to fix smudging on an ongoing drawing:

Start drawing from the perspective of your dominant hand. This means that if you are left-handed, you should start drawing from the upper right corner and work your way down to the bottom left corner. Following this gradient ensures that you won't be rubbing against areas of the paper that you have already drawn out. The opposite applies if you are right-handed.

You can also try to place a clean paper under your dominant hand as you draw. This paper will absorb any oils from your hand and prevent your hand from rubbing against the drawing. If you are worried about the paper blocking your workflow, you can opt for a tracing paper or any translucent paper that will allow you to see the area under your hand.

An alternative to paper is a mahl stick. Although mostly used by painters, it can apply to the drawing world too. It is a stick made with a padded head that allows you to rest your hand as you continue to work on a drawing. You can even make your own at home.

Your Drawing Has Started to Develop a Yellow Appearance

The most common method of storing art is hanging the art up or combining pieces into a portfolio. This can work for other types of art but can be problematic when handling any graphite drawing. The first reason for this appearance is the type of paper you use. Some papers yellow over time, while some only do so after exposure to sunlight.

Dependent on the kind of paper you use, you can either avoid such papers or make sure that there is no direct sunlight wherever you store your art. The second reason is the presence of acid. If you use tape to hold down your art or if the glass or wood in your frame has any acid, the acid will react with the charcoal and form the yellow color.

An alternative way to store your graphite drawing would be to use clamshell boxes and glassine covers. Clamshell boxes are convenient if you draw a lot or own many charcoal drawings or have pieces that don't fit into a portfolio. Other advantages of clamshell boxes are that they are made from acid-free paper and custom-made to suit your needs. When placing your graphite drawing in a clamshell box, place glassine covers between each piece to reduce contact.

Your Drawing Has Started to Get ‘Shiny’

One of the reasons many artists hate using graphite is because of its “shining quality.” This is when a drawing appears to be shiny or have a silver-like appearance. This is an undesirable quality because the artists intended to appear dark now look like they are reflecting light. If you have experienced this phenomenon, here are some of the mistakes that you might be making:

You are using too much graphite. To achieve the darker tones in a drawing, most artists' sole option uses darker graphite pencils. Without proper technique and due to dark graphite pencils' very soft nature, you are most likely to use too much and hence end up having a shine. If this happens to you, a quick alternative would be to use a pencil that is not entirely made up of graphite. Some pencils have the graphite mixed with different pigments that still enable you to achieve darker tones without the fear of making your drawings shiny. Another quick option would be to use graphite powder. Unlike a pencil, graphite powder does not end up shining. However, if you would still like to maintain your drawing's graphite integrity, you should practice your technique till the point your drawings no longer shine.

You are pressing too hard. If you press too hard, you lack the proper technique. As mentioned above, the technique requires a lot of practice. It also requires a knowledge of your tools. If you pick a lighter shade than what you intended, you end up repeatedly working over an area and hence “buffing” or making the area shine. On the other hand, if you choose a too dark pencil and end up revising the area, the same shiny effect will occur.

Your Drawing Does Not Appear Smooth

When graphite started to become a popular medium in the art scene, artists never used to smooth over their work. They preferred a looser approach. However, in the modern-day, people embrace a smoother and more realistic approach to their graphite drawings.

The first problem that may be causing your graphite drawing's uneven appearance is if your pencil strokes have been made fast and look like scribbles. In this case, no amount of blending will make the strokes less prominent. Your pencil strokes should be made lightly and smoothly. This way, it won't be easy to distinguish any individual strokes you made.

The second thing to consider when trying to create a smooth drawing is what tools you use for blending your graphite. You can use anything from tissue, paper towels, and paintbrushes. However, you should not make the common mistake of using your hand or blowing on your drawing.

Using your hand may leave oil residue on your drawing while the paper will absorb moisture from your mouth. The most advisable tools to use are stumps and tortillons. As when using a pencil, lightly apply the stump and tortillons for a smoother effect. A light application will also help your paper not look rough or choppy, qualities which will make your drawing appear less smooth.

A final approach to creating a smooth drawing would be to hold your paper down as you draw. There are many ways to do this, but most artists prefer the use of tape. Before you start working on your drawing, attach the tape to the back of your paper. This way, your paper will not bunch or crumble with your hand movements.

Your Drawing is Not Clean

This does not apply to the subject matter of the drawing or any moral issues surrounding art. This refers to the cleanliness of your drawing. If you are not careful, you may end up with a drawing with brown coffee stain patches and pieces of your last meal scattered everywhere. The first step you have to take is to keep your working area clean and organized. After every drawing session or project, clean the surface you're working on.

This will prevent any previous graphite or materials from tampering with your drawing. The same process should apply to your tools. You don't want to erase a part of your drawing only to remember that your eraser had some paint attached to it after you see a blue spot. Lastly, avoid eating around your working area.

Other than external elements, your drawing can also become dirty because of a lack of planning. As an artist, you have to identify what technique works best for you. If you aren't that adept at perspective, don't be afraid to draw lines to guide you. This is much better than having to erase your drawing all the time. If you have to rotate your paper as you continue drawing, don't force yourself to draw from one perspective. Do whatever works for you to avoid many corrections that will ruin your drawing's overall quality.

In summary, these are the tips you should follow when fixing a graphite drawing:

  • When it comes to protecting your drawing, choose a fixative that will suit your needs.
  • Avoid touching your drawing while you work on it; use a paper or a mahl stick.
  • Pick the right paper depending on your storage and the purpose of your drawing.
  • Ensure that your medium of storage is acid-free
  • Have the right tools before you start drawing
  • Learn the proper technique so that you don't draw too rough or too hard
  • Always keep your work environment and tools clean.

As you can see, no one method will help you fix your art. It would be best if you used a combination of all the above methods when it comes to fixing your graphite drawing. You should also do proper research before attempting any new method. This will prevent you from falling for myths like using hair sprays as an alternative to fixatives.

Most importantly, at the end of the day, always remember that a good artist is born from a lot of experimentation and errors. Don't be too hard on yourself when you smudge your drawing or when you can't quite get the right shade of pencil. Soon you will be laughing at your mistakes. Also, keep in mind that every artist has their own way of doing things. You might be struggling with fixing a mistake that may end up being your signature technique.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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