Project – Making Marks

Exercise – Using Charcoal (and Graphite Sticks)
Armed with a good selection of charcoals I approached this exercise with a certain amount of trepidation. This was my first significant experiment with charcoal.
Charcoal has never been a media that even the finished product has appealed. I have yet to find a widely acclaimed drawing that has been produced in charcoal but then I am a beginner.

Charcoal appears to me to be a tool for which a use had to be found rather than the tool “we have all been looking for”. Soft pastels are marginally better but only because they come in many colours.

The exercise required the charcoal to be used in many different ways but there is little control and only a small degree of drawing accuracy from even a thin stick of charcoal hence the necessity to draw big.

Expressing tonal variety is also a bit hit and miss. Shading in different grades of darkness is difficult and necessitates  a good knowledge of the different types of charcoal, i.e. vine, willow, compressed etc, and an understanding of how each type might be useful. (I did experiment further on practice paper.)

Lifting the charcoal from the paper worked best on the mark of a medium density grade charcoal using a putty eraser and it was possible to make distinctive negative shapes. In other grades the lifting worked less well and surprisingly hardly at all in the darkest grade.

Smudging/blending was a readily attainable technique using fingers and cotton pads etc. but it was difficult to see “beauty” in the marks which looked just like a grey smudge.

I have some wide lead (ie. sticks) graphite clutch pencils and also blocks which I used to create a similar range of marks to those in charcoal.
Graphite is a cleaner medium and more productive in terms of aesthetic marks and accordingly more to my taste.

As the leads and blocks are graded and labelled it was more possible to be accurate with the tone required. The experiments were therefore more controllable and subtle which will suit my preference and style in drawing work.

Because of the thickness of the leads and blocks the implements can be used in large scale drawings and will make freeflowing marks with good variations in tone though possibly not as visually dramatic as charcoal.

I think I will need some convincing that charcoal is a useful drawing tool when large lead and block graphite appears to have so many benefits.


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