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Many artists consider drawing and sketching as fundamental to the artistic process. Brief sketches can help develop a finished painting or sculpture, but these and more finished drawings can also stand as works of art in themselves.
Art pencils come in an array of types--from hard graphites best for detailed line drawings to soft charcoals that quickly cover a broad expanse of space. Often artists combine different types of pencil and mark-making techniques to achieve diverse effects.
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In medieval Europe, artists drew on vellum--a type of prepared animal skin--with sticks made of silver, lead or tin. Sticks made of soft metal, collectively referred to as "metalpoint," produce pale, fine lines of uniform width. Most artists no longer use metalpoint techniques because the lines produced are difficult to erase and hence unforgiving of mistakes.
Vellum is costly and requires complicated preparation, so artists before the mid-1400s did not make many preparatory sketches. When paper became more available in Italian artist workshops, High Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo began filling thick sketchbooks with drawings. These practices led to the Florentine concept of "disegno." Disegno, literally "design," signified the artist's idea made visible through drawing and emphasized the importance of composition and careful study of the natural world.
Artists use the graphite pencil (sometimes referred to as a "lead" pencil) more often than any other medium. Artist pencils come in varying degrees of hardness and softness: The harder the pencil is, the lighter the line produced. Often artists combine both hard and soft pencils to achieve a range of light and dark values.
Graphite does not spread easily over the drawing surface, so artists often use a range of mark-making techniques for shading purposes. One such technique is crosshatching, where an artist creates closely parallel crossed lines for dark areas--sometimes so close together that an area is covered in graphite--with greater spacing between individual lines for lighter areas.
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As opposed to metalpoint or graphite's thin, delicate lines, charcoal produces soft and occasionally harsh series of marks. Charcoal, made from burnt wood sticks, can provide a wide set of tones, from sketchy and pale grays to thick and velvety blacks.
Charcoal spreads very easily, and artists can use chamois cloth (a soft suede cloth) to move charcoal around the page. Charcoal drawings are thus not always linear. Most artists do not use their fingers to smudge either charcoal or graphite because the oils in human skin can often interfere with the desired effect.
Colored pencils work in similar ways to graphite pencils in that they produce lines and do not smudge readily.
Though such pencils are available in a wide variety of colors, artists often blend colored pencil marks on the page to attain deeper and more luminous color. For example, an artist might combine layers of yellow and blue to create a more complex and visually interesting green hue. Though this technique can result in a high level of detail, it is very time-consuming.