P20 – Exercise 4 – Using Charcoal

I just lurve using charcoal! OK, it can be messy and you have to fix it before you can do anything else with it, but it feels so smooth as it goes on. Some of my favourite drawings that I have done have been with charcoal. Given the choice, and depending on what I wanted to achieve, I would almost always go for charcoal or pen and indian ink. Pencil is OK for quick sketches on one’s travels, but that’s all.

This is one of the last mark-making exercise. We’ll be able to draw something soon!

Square 1 shows lines of different weight with medium (5mm) and thick (7mm) sticks. It also shows how easy it is to accidentally smudge the charcoal!

With 2 I was hoping to get a thin and thick line in different directions of the curve (similar to 3 and 4 but with the end of the stick) but apart from the right hand half of the lower line, I wasn’t very successful.

3 and 4 were drawn with the side of a short stick. I love these curves! I hadn’t intended any difference across the curves, but one side seems darker than the other, almost giving a three dimensional effect like ribbons. They are also very calligraphic. I must try and find opportunities to use this technique! Lovely!

I had read that a tortillon, or blending stump made from tightly rolled paper, can be used to blend charcoal. However the article said that “because the paper fibres drag graphite across and into the surface of the paper, they create a fine but even layer of graphite with no white paper left to reflect light. This can make the surface very dull. It is useful when creating illusions of texture, such as velvet, but can easily make a drawing look lifeless.”

In Square 5 I tried different ways of smoothing the charcoal curves from 3 and 4. The original mark had a lot of texture from the surface of the paper, but the tortillon did indeed blend it to a smooth lifeless grey. The paper towel was similar but more difficult to control even wrapped around the wrong end of a paint brush. My finger took a lot of charcoal off, rather than blend it.

With 6, I tried four different methods of trying to remove some charcoal to give highlights. They were, from left to right, putty rubber, paper towel, bread and my finger. A putty rubber is the normal method, but it gets black very quickly and, if a “white” highlight is needed, it must be manipulated frequently. I’d never heard of using bread before reading the suggestion in the course notes. I was pleasantly surprised at how effective it was. The only problem were the small crumbs. These had to be carefully brushed off with a paint brush. It would be so easy to wipe them off and smudge the work.

I like using charcoal for life drawing as a line can quickly be drawn and then feathered with a finger to give a feeling of shadow. 7 and 8 show this technique.

9 and 10 show shaded blocks highlighted with a putty rubber (9) or bread (10) and then darker charcoal added. One of my favourite life drawing studies was done using this technique.

Another technique I like to use charcoal is with cut paper stencils and powdered charcoal. I tried to get a 3D effect with 11 by shading one side more than the other. With 12 I tried to get two overlapping shapes. At the church I attend we sit on the left hand side. There are spot lights shining from the right hand side which cast shadows of the people at the left hand ends of the pews onto the plain wall. Often the shadows of different people cast by different lamps overlap and produce interesting effects. I want to try and get the effect using stencils and charcoal.


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
This entry was posted in Art, Drawing 1, OCA, Open College of the Arts. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to P20 – Exercise 4 – Using Charcoal

  1. clinock says:

    Charcoal is such a humble medium but so versatile – did you try using it with various liquid media? I rarely used it when teaching high school art – avoiding the wrath of the janitors! Now I love playing with it. I had a friend who ground up mountains of the stuff and then applied it to vast paper surfaces, using it like paint with his hands as a brush…

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