Are my leads GRAPHITE or CARBON?

Michael emailed to ask:

I was looking over your most excellent website regarding fine art drawings. I referred to some of your tools on the “tools and tips” page. I had a question. Basically you present drawings and drawing instruction in graphite. But the tools you use – particularly the Staedtler clutch pencils and leads are actually carbon, at least here in the US they are.

This a Staedtler “problem” I’m often asked about – particularly when an artist has ordered Lumograph “graphite” but received a pack of “carbon” leads.

First, a little history: The Staedtler Mars Lumograph brand dates from 1931 and the lead’s slightly waxy composition was formulated for the creation of graphite drawings that could be printed from without the need for inking. Over time this formulation replaced the plain Mars leads.

Originally wood-cased Lumograph pencils were designated as “2886” and leads (for leadholders or clutch pencils) as “1904”. These later became “100” and “200” respectively. I have in my possession packs of “2886” 2B wood-cased pencils and later “100” designated pencils, and they are indistinguishable in all respects – except for the gold writing that is now printed in white.

I also have elderly packs of 2mm “graphite” leads and the more recent “carbon” leads – both with the “200” designated stock number and they too are identical.

Staedtler manufactured two types of leads for holders – thin, for mechanical pencils and 2mm for clutch pencils. The thin leads were made from a technique known as “carbonisation” and, as I understand it, the raw materials used could have included natural graphite, pet and pitch cokes, and soots – in other words ‘carbon’. The graphite used for the 2mm leads is itself just a very pure form of carbon, so it seems likely that Staedtler just decided to call all their graphite leads for mechanical and clutch pencils “carbon”. So there you have it – the difference is zero, zilch, nada, nothing at all.

As Staedtler themselves say on their website under ‘graphite pencils and accessories’ “Easy to refill with “…STAEDTLER Mars micro carbon mechanical pencil leads”.

Graphite or “lead” pencils:

As you probably know, pencil ‘lead’ contains no actual lead, just graphite, so it is non-toxic and very stable, and graphite is a form of pure carbon.

Charcoal pencils:

These are made of charcoal and provide richer blacks than graphite pencils, but tend to smudge and are more abrasive than graphite.

Carbon pencils:

These are usually made of a mixture of clay and lamp black, but are sometimes blended with charcoal or graphite depending on the darkness and manufacturer. They produce a deeper black than graphite pencils, but are smoother than charcoal.

Incidentally, graphite has a flat plate-like structure where charcoal and carbon have rough grains. That plate structure reflects light – the common sheen displayed by pencil drawings – but the coarse grains of charcoal don’t reflect light at all, so blacks appear to be more dense. There is a solution – on completion, spray your graphite drawing with a matt fixative. The effect can be quite magical as the sheen disappears and your drawing pops with increased contrast. And a good fixative contains an Ultra-Violet filter to protect the paper against the effects of sunlight, so you should always fix your drawings.

With thanks to for providing some of the information.

Drawing Workshop co-organisers wanted

Following a successful workshop tour of the USA this year it’s time to begin planning for next year. Nothing beats local knowledge, so I’m always grateful to receive assistance from my local co-organisers and in return I offer a free workshop.


I’m planning to visit the US twice in 2010 – in May/June and October. I hope the first trip will include Canada, where I have had two tentative invitations, but more are welcome.

The second trip will probably include California (Solvang) and possibly a north California venue.

If you have suggestions for a venue in any state or province I’ll be happy to consider including it.

UK 2010

As well as running workshops locally in North Yorkshire I also try to run at least one elsewhere in the country each year – in 2009 it was Glastonbury and the year before I was in Hampshire. I’m looking for a co-organiser and a suitable venue in any other part of the country (or even near a past venue). Could you, or your local Art Society, help?


I am currently considering a trip to Australia in 2011, visiting as many locations to hold workshops as I can. More than one workshop may be held in the Melbourne area but I’m looking for suitable venues in other locations and states too. See below for details.

Co-Organiser details

The requirements are quite simple: a suitable venue, about 20 attendees, and a base to which I can ship supplies (workshop packs, pre-prepared line drawing etc — you could fit the whole lot into a suitcase!).

The venue need not be any art-related place. I use a village hall here in the North Yorkshire that has good light, a kitchen, plentiful parking, disabled access and toilets, and sufficient tables and chairs. A church hall or community hall would do too, or a hotel with a conference room (although they can be expensive).

Workshops would be either 2-day or 3-day, probably 10am – 5pm.

I need about 20 (maximum 25) attendees to make the workshop viable. Maybe you belong to a local art group and know of other groups you can approach? Would your local newspaper be interested in running an editorial piece on the event? This local knowledge is invaluable – you know things I cannot possibly find out from the UK.

I’m not expecting anyone to have to spend money – if, for example, posters or flyers are required for display in local art stores, I’ll arrange that from here or pay for you to do it locally. I’ll give all the support you need, such as circulating the workshop through my mailing lists, advertising on my websites and blog, paying venue deposits and so on. I will also advertise the workshop on other websites, such as the SAA website where I’m a Professional Associate, which has quite a few American and other foreign members, and on my own Starving-Artists site and at (both of which have an international membership). In brief, I’ll do everything I can to attract attendees and help in all other respects too.

If you’re interested, please email me to let me know.

To find out more visit my website’s Workshop Central.