Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Snow Scene in Charcoal

Snow on Chittenden Hill, charcoal on paper, 25.5 x 20.25, Jan Blencowe, copyright 2011

I've written before about the beauty of working in charcoal here , and  here . A post about the advantages of charcoal is  here , and most recently a post about using powdered charcoal here.

Because any medium that is done on paper, (pencil, charcoal, pastel, watercolor, etching etc) needs to be matted and framed, and because I really, really prefer museum glass, which is very expensive, I have previously kept the size of my charcoal drawings on the smaller side. Here are two, framed up, Sherwood Island and Griswold Point so you can see what they look like and what size they are.

Since I find myself uninspired to paint right now, but very interested in working in charcoal I threw practicality to the wind and worked on the largest sheet of good paper that I had in my drawer. And let me tell you this was such a freeing, wonderful experience. Working large allows you to fully exploit the expressive nature of the medium. 

I am by nature an expressionist. I favor mediums and techniques that allow you to work quickly and broadly, in this case with the side of a big fat stick of vine charcoal,  a bristle brush with powdered charcoal and white pan pastel. It's not about careful draftsmanship as much as it is about vigorous mark making and pulling an image out of loose, chaotic areas with strokes that go this way and that. A good deal of the interest and fun for me lies in not knowing whether this piece will eventually work and discovering what secrets are hidden in the ambiguous shapes of light and shadow that I lay in rapidly at the beginning. It's an exploration, a journey without a map, a journey you embark on following your instincts and the wisdom you've gained over the years through study and practice.

Usually, if I choke and get overly concerned about drawing and accuracy right at the beginning the piece will shrivel and die, becoming fussy, persnickety, tight and contrived. Sometimes if I catch myself soon enough I can resuscitate the drawing by doing something radical like smudging or wiping the whole thing and then rapidly and without any self-conscious concerns attack it with fresh, confident broad strokes.

Charcoal on paper is perhaps one of the most economical mediums to work in and since you are freed from concerns about wasting expensive paint or linen you can go at it with a risk taking attitude. So the inexpensive nature of the materials somewhat off sets the expense of framing. (At least that's what I tell myself!) However, I will caution you that while the charcoal itself is dirt cheap the beautiful papers that I prefer can be a bit pricey ($10 a sheet), but still cheaper than linen or stretched cotton canvas.

There's something very elemental about black and white charcoal pieces. Even though they lack color they seem to me to be vivid, clear and precise even when the charcoal is applied broadly and clings to the paper surface with velvety smoothness. It is for me an altogether satisfying medium and one that rarely disappoints.


Joan Cole said...

Hi Jan,

I love your "Snow on Chittenden Hill." Thanks also for posting "Why Beauty Matters." Much to ponder on that one.

Jan Blencowe said...

Hi Joan,

Merry Christmas and happy new year! Welcome back to the east coast. Will we see you for class on Jan. 2nd??

Ruth Ann said...

Hi and Happy New Year!
You are an inspiration! I love your work!