My first thoughts on using charcoal

So over the holiday I got to some drawing. The big thing really was that I started to use charcoal, not a major step but something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. But I started with a simple tonal study, to get my eye and hands back into the swing of it (for some reason WordPress has cropped the thumbnail so to have a proper look at it, click on it):

So my first effort with charcoal was this (click on it to see the bigger version):

It was done as quick experiment on my sketchbook (across two pages) of a twig. I did the outline in ink. However you can see where the charcoal smudged accidentally. I liked it, it was much easier and faster to pull out the change in tones using the charcoal than with pencil like in the tonal study I did first. But a lot messier and prone to accidents.

I then went out and found something to really try the charcoal out on. In Chargey, where we were on holidays, there is lots of really old lovely things. There was this “saint” statue on the side of the old house, worn by weather, it had long lost its head. I love the fact that it was just a lump of rock but somehow you were able to perceive that it was once a detailed statue (again WordPress has cropped the thumbnail, I’ll have to find a fix for that):

The first one was done with pencil and charcoal. I didn’t do any of the background which I think distracts from the picture, loses it’s context, but I also found the final work messy and, well, a bit random. The second study, I outlined in ink first, including the background and then tried to capture the tone of the stone statue with charcoal. I think the second one is better but loses the feel of the statue. Everyone who saw the actual drawings preferred the first one, because the contrast between ink and charcoal was much more noticeable than the digital copies here.

There was a second statue, much bigger than this one but also very similar. This time I tried toned paper (i.e. not white):

The first thing that hit was the effect of the grade of paper. My light pencil marks were not working, so I dove straight in with the charcoal but I couldn’t make any tone… just black and a tiny smudge. The effort was a bit, well shite. If you knew the statue in the house, you’d recognise it, but I think it failed to capture anything else.

What this highlighted for me was the effect of the type of paper on my drawing, in particular with charcoal. On my notebook (the twig) I was able to get a really good strength and contrast of tone, but on my A4 sketch pad, the paper is thinner. It has a different effect, harder to generate really deep tones. But the coloured paper was the thickest of them all but it’s texture made it impossible to create contrast in tones at all. I’ve always known that paper makes a difference, but it was always negligible for me. With ink, I would place a spare page underneath thin paper so it’d soak up ink that leaked through. Also the way my coloured  markers’ ink spread, was really affected by the thickness of the paper.

So my first thoughts on charcoal is that it’s cool. I like what I can produce with it, but it does require further playing with it. And I love its messiness.

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