I’ve only recently started playing around with pencils again having bought a set of Conté Pierre Noire pencils which promised to be much darker, if you saw my recent Elizabeth Taylor portrait then that’s what I used on that one.
And then I saw a post on the blog of Alison regarding art materials and it jogged my memory for the Staedtler Lumograph Black pencils which are another one I had heard about when I bought the Contés so I figured I’d get one to try.
The Conté is black, really really black, blacker than the black hole of Calcutta, which may have had windows behind the bars to be fair.
It has a sort of waxy feel in use but is subject to crumbling if pressing hard, and occasionally tiny bits can break off whilst using it and create a little scratchy lump. It’s something you can hear and feel more than a problem affecting the drawing but probably best to stop drawing until the grain of charcoal is removed.
The body of the pencil is fairly wide which means it doesn’t fit in a conventional pencil sharpener, whilst the “correct” art-hipster way to sharpen is with a knife and sandpaper it’s sometimes handier to have the lazy cleaner option. I don’t seem to have mastered the knife sharpening method just yet as I’m often left with chunks of lead breaking off rather than sharpening out to a point, this is before I even get a chance to show it the sandpaper. Note the point I’ve managed to craft on the end of it here (the bottom pencil) – it’s about as sharp as a brick.
By comparison the Lumograph Black is more like a regular pencil, whilst it’s still a higher-charcoal blend than a regular graphite and thus gives a much better black without the shine it’s not quite as black as the Conté.
One other point about the Staedtler though is that it seems easier to do a finer coverage of the paper, note the difference on the pictures, the Conté isn’t filling in all the little grains in the paper – it’s far more charcoal like in that respect. Whilst that is resolvable by layering on in different directions, by pushing the material into the paper with a stump or with another pencil, etc. with the Lumograph Black it’s more “built-in” and like in that respect.
You may have noticed that I keep calling it a “Lumograph Black” – this is an important point. It’s easy to get mixed up with a “Lumograph”, in fact that’s exactly what the supplier did when I ordered it – they incorrectly sent me a regular one. It’s easy to identify once you know as the regular one has a blue casing and is missing the word “Black”.
If that wasn’t enough you’d soon realise it’s graphite in use – check the shine on this puppy !! Now, some artists actually seem to like the shine, personally I really dislike it – it reminds me of when someone tries to show you a picture on a laptop screen from the side and all you see is a distorted almost negative image.
The Lumographs are 6B, the Conté is 3B and I’ve included a dash of black ink and a regular HB pencil for comparison.
I have five different grades of the Conté and honestly they all come out as dark as one another, I can’t tell the difference. The only difference I can tell is in the feel of them when in use, I generally try and complete a whole drawing using just one grade of pencil anyway so it doesn’t matter to me – it might to you. I’ve never been drawing with a 3H and been thinking “ooh if only I had my 5H to hand” – I can’t imagine I’m ever going to buy anything harder than a HB in the future other than for when extra pressure is required.
If you read this far… well done… but if you’re just starting out as an artist do remember not to get too hung up on these sort of things. Some of my best drawings have been with a Bic ballpoint pen and scrap paper, neither of which I found in any art shop.