Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Advantages of Working in Charcoal

Northern Marsh, 11x17, charcoal, Jan Blencowe, copyright 2011

Today I taught my regular once a month class. We worked on charcoal drawings as an exploration of landscape composition and values. Charcoal is such an easy, forgiving medium. Something in the wrong place? No problem, just dust it away!  This lets students easily make composition and design changes immediately, as soon as something doesn't look correct. This is a big advantage because it prevents students from settling for compositional deficiencies because it's too difficult to change something (like with oil paint) and it trains the eye to become accustomed to spotting errors and fixing them immediately because it's so easy, therefore no bad habits have a chance to develop, like settling for a awkwardly shaped rock or a poorly designed land mass. There's no excuse not to fix something when you're working in charcoal precisely because it is so easy and quick to fix. Vine charcoal is very soft and dusts off or lifts with a kneaded eraser, leaving no trace behind. Pastels can stain paper and graphite can leave dents of engraved lines in the paper, but charcoal vanishes without a trace and will never leave a ghost image or impression in the paper surface. All trace of the struggle to create the artwork will be invisible and not mar the final piece in any way. This allows you to work freely and with intuitive abandon, taking risks and trying bold new things. 

The piece above was done on Borden & Riley, 80lb.  medium gray Charcoal paper #410. I used soft vine charcoal, a soft General's Charcoal pencil, a blending stump, a kneaded eraser and white pan pastel (and my fingers).  

Here is my student Priscilla evaluating her progress.....

She is copying an Alexander Wyant painting for her study, here's a close up of her progress. She's doing really great for a first try with charcoal. She has a naturally sensitive hand, and her mark making is quite lovely. My hand is bold, dramatic and heavy compared to Priscilla's delicate touch, and that's a great comparison and shows the versatility of charcoal.

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