Creativity in Carbons

Of all naturally occurring inorganic materials (minerals), graphite is probably the one most familiar to artists. Carbon, in the form of soot or charcoal, has been used by man as a medium for creating artistic forms since the Stone Age. The longevity of carbon as a “paint” is proven by the fact that it survives in cave paintings that are thousands of years old. The graphite in Leonardo da Vinci’s pencil drawings is no doubt as clear now as it was the day the sketches were made.

The word graphite is derived from the Greek word graphein, which means “to write.” A version of the word graphein is still retained by carbon scientists as the word “graphene,” which is the term used to describe a singe layer of a graphite crystal, “the graphene layer.” The documented use of graphite as a commercial writing material is traced to the area around Keswick in Cumberland, Great Britain, where a high quality deposit of “writing graphite” was discovered in the middle of the 1500s (Petroski). However, graphite was certainly used for the same application long before Keswick pencils were carved from the graphite-rich veins of Great Britain.

In more recent times, artists have progressed from using graphite as a two-dimensional medium to a three-dimensional medium. Flake and synthetic graphite have proven especially useful to artists who take advantage of the platy or granular morphology of these materials, their color and reflective properties, as well as their interesting surface textures.

Flake graphite typically has well developed “faces” that are actually the basal plane structure common to many hexagonal minerals. These “faces,” called pinacoids by mineralogists, are highly reflective and have their own unique textures resulting from the striations commonly found crisscrossing their surface. By selecting different sizes of flake graphite, and therefore different sizes of pinacoid “faces,” the artist can control the reflectance and texture seen on the canvas.

Synthetic graphite is typically not as reflective as flake graphite. However, it has a pleasing gray hue that can be “adjusted” by the proper selection of particle size. Synthetic graphite is a more granular, less platy particle that provides its own unique texture to the canvas.

Graphite is inert so it is compatible with most, if not all, pigment systems. This permits the artist to freely add graphite powders to any color, in any base.

By selecting graphite of different particle size and shape, the artist can create unique reflective and textural perspectives that enhance the light and space emanating from the canvas. Graphite mixes well with most carriers so it can be used in paint regardless of how thick it is. This allows the artist to build up levels on the canvas that further enhance the “dimensionality” of the work. Different textures can also be created by rubbing or buffing the paint after or during drying.

The following scanning electron micrographs provide some insight into the morphology and reflective properties of graphite.

Below are some works of fine art from contemporary artists who use Asbury graphite as part of their compositions.

The Art Work of Ioan Florea

Mr. Ioan Florea can be contacted via email at

His website is

 Abstract Landscape

The Art Work of Brian Noble-Marx


This 20” tall sculpture titles “Tree” is clay coated in black gesso brushed with Asbury F280 flake graphite, resulting in a faux cast iron look.
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