I started drawing just over two months ago. I was surprised that I could faithfully render images in graphite, and even more surprised that I could create images from multiple models, as I did with the Neandertal skull and some figure studies. Me, an artist? I would have considered the idea a bad joke not even 10 weeks ago, but apparently I can do it. Another artist friend shrugged his shoulders. "You're a novelist, Pearson. You sketch images using words. Now you're using pencils. You've changed media, that's all." He has an interesting perspective, and perhaps there is some truth in his thought.
As I increased my technical range, I began to notice things that bothered me, or at least raised my curiosity level. For instance, I noticed pretty quickly that graphite tends to have a higher reflectance (becomes shinier) at higher density or application pressure. This isn't surprising, based on what I know about the structure of graphite dust, but the discovery led me to other questions. Why, for example, did my Derwent 2B pencil seem to have nearly the same darkness value as my Derwent 4B? Did I just get a bad lot of pencils, or is narrow value at high B numbers a quality of Derwent pencils? Do other manufacturers suffer the same narrow range?
I bought a few pencils and was surprised at what I found. Taking the question further, I built testing equipment so I could compare one pencil to another without subjective bias. I'm looking for input from graphite pencil artists on the kinds of pencil qualities I should investigate. I will be looking at graphite darkness (value), reflectance, reproducibility, value range (from 4H to 9B), breakability, friability, colour, and value v. application pressure (measured as grams then converted to Newtons). What other measurable qualities should I look at?
Building test equipment is not new to me. Over the last 40 years I've occasionally had to build R&D equipment when no commercial equivalent was available. I created a sheeting device out of an aquarium tank, for instance. This was an apparatus that allowed me to study glassware sheeting phenomena during the wash process. Some years ago I was working with benzoyl peroxide and was tasked with quantifying its effects. The problem here is that pure benzoyl peroxide is explosive when dry, so it is shipped in 30 percent water. I had to create a high-humidity chamber so I could weigh the stuff accurately, water and all, without the water evaporating during the weighing process. That was maybe the most challenging device I created, but accurate, reproducible pencil testing devices have proven only slightly less difficult. I look forward to your ideas about pencil testing!