Monday, December 13, 2010

The Cave Painter Within

Sherwood Island, vine charcoal on handmade paper, 10x17

Paleontologists tell us that as far back as 32,000 years ago humans were drawing on cave walls using red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal.

So it seems that not too much has changed, we're still drawing with charcoal just on paper and not on cave walls, though many artists do make a nice living painting murals on other people's walls, and graffiti artists spend their nights painting on overpasses, buildings, and highway dividers the " cave walls" of modern society!

I do find that there is something very basic, elemental and primary about drawing, especially with charcoal. Perhaps the urge to draw with a burnt stick is hardwired into our genes. I like other drawing media, but something about charcoal really resonates with me. It's such a simple material.

Vine Charcoal is produced by burning sticks or twigs of wood in a kiln without air. Some manufacturers shape them to produce sticks of a more uniform appearance. Willow is the wood of choice, because of its even consistency and fineness of particles; however, linden is more commonly used. Vine charcoal is available in soft, medium, and hard consistencies.

Working on handmade paper further enhances the feeling of utter elemental simplicity, it kind of puts you in touch with the ancient cave painter within you! It also lets me focus on some of the most basic elements of art, value, composition and texture. 

In all painting and drawing media there are two ways to create texture. One way is to choose an absolutely smooth surface and draw or paint in all the detail. Another way is to use a textured surface and a looser media and allow the surface and the media to create the texture for you. This drawing is an example of method #2. A beautifully textured paper and a loose medium like soft vine charcoal allow random textures to appear as I work, a perfect choice for depicting the endless textures and random arrangements of nature.

So even if you've been very good this year you might consider asking Santa to leave some coal (charcoal that is!) in your stocking!!

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