Exercise Using Charcoal

I really enjoyed this exercise today. ( A4 sketchbook pages 6 and 7). It is a messy media but great fun. I started with trying a very thin stick and found it gave nice thin lines which became rapidly thicker as the end blunted. Surprisingly when I used a very thick stick I could get nice thin lines by using it on its sharp edge, I hadn’t expected such a thick stick to be capable of that. I found that the very thick stick seemed to be harder than the thinner sticks and when used on its side it had a very scratchy feel to it and seemed to shade poorly. It is possible that it may just be that particular stick. It is the only really large stick of charcoal that I have so that will be something to check out when I can get another one.

Building up tone by smoothing charcoal that had already been applied to the paper produced a nice range of soft tones. I also tried making different tones as the result of gradually pressing harder on the stick. I found that after a certain point the paper appeared to be unable to take anymore charcoal and if I tried to add more I actually ended up lifting some of the darkest tone instead. (Please see figure 1).

Figure 1
Exercise Using charcoal

I really enjoyed using the charcoal on its side and seeing the effects that I got by twisting it in various directions or dragging it or sweeping it. Dragging it, with the short edge leading, straight down the paper gave very straight thin lines as I had found in a previous exercise.

Charcoal proved to be good for applying large areas of tone quickly by shading with the flat edge of a stick and then rubbing with my finger. I filled the box with tone very quickly. It was fun to then “draw” back into the tone with a putty rubber. This lifted some of the charcoal from the paper to give highlighted areas. I couldn’t lift all of the charcoal from the paper which meant that I couldn’t go back to a clean white. To try and make the highlight brighter I tried using a white pastel but found that it tended to mix with the charcoal that remained in the highlighted area and gave a grey rather than a nice bright highlight. I will need to research ways of doing that.

It was interesting to discover that because the sticks are natural, they are not necessarily flat which meant that when I used some sticks on their sides only parts of the stick were in contact with the paper until they wore down to an equal level. When twisting the sticks this produced interesting patterns where only parts of the stick come into contact with the paper.

I could produce various patterns quickly but I found that I could then smudge them just as quickly. As in a previous exercise, I found again that using fixative only appears to reduce the amount that smudges, the surface still remains susceptible if anything touches it. (Please see figure 2).

Figure 2
Exercise Using charcoal

I am looking forward to experimenting more with charcoal. I think that it will be a great media for expressive work. I like the fact that you can get large areas of tone quickly and can lift out tone with a putty rubber. I find it difficult to work “big” but I think that this media lends itself to bigger pieces of paper. I find that it also encourages me to be more adventurous. I can see why it is a popular media for life drawing as the soft tones that can be produced would be really good for rendition of skin. A fascinating media and a joy to use.

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