My high school art teacher told me once that smudging with one’s finger was cheating. Well, not to snub one at you Mr. T, but it’s not cheating. At least not with charcoal.
One of the small pleasures I have in my art is charcoal drawing. It’s spectacular in that I can get an image onto canvas/paper quickly like pencil, but with wonderful sweeping movements like paint. AND…you can smudge the dickens out of it! Something about getting your hands literally caked with black dust and it being okay…it does things to me.
But onward to the reason of this post. My mum recently asked that I recreate a painting – photo of a painting, really – for a friend to hang in her new house. She has this beautifully simplistic print of an African American woman’s face, eyes lowered, and a single tear rolling down her cheek, and you cannot tell if it’s from grief or joy. All you see is the woman’s face and neck, and the rest is cut off by the stark whiteness of the background, as if she’s bathed in white cloth. It’s beautiful, but for the life of me, I cannot find the artist’s name anywhere. I think it was a thrift store find from years ago, but it continues to be one of the most captivating wall hangings Mum has in her house.
Anywho, I don’t want to do an exact copy – I get incredibly uncomfortable when asked to do that to another artist’s work, known or unknown – so I thought that I would try a charcoal medium. Then I thought I should practice. I had a leftover cheap canvas board that I got oh-so-long-ago from somewhere or other, so why not? Plus, I’m a little rusty and wanted to work out the kinks before the real thing.
I had at my disposal…
– One charcoal pencil, black
– One charcoal pencil, white (optional)
– One click eraser (optional)
– One kneaded eraser
– One 12” x 16” canvas board
I personally LOVE to use my click eraser when using charcoal because if I need to erase a bit of black stuff in a small area, or maybe “draw” an image into a charcoaled area, it’s amazingly helpful. But that’s just me. Also, the white charcoal pencil is only optional if you’re like me and are still working on the whole “leave the white space alone if it’s to be white in the first place” thing. Eternal student, everyone…
Now in the past, I’ve used the grid method when trying to make photographic replicas of images or photos. You know, the penciled on grid over an image to be proportionally enlarged on art paper or canvas. It’s to help with proportions, placement and likeness, and it is very effective. I had every intention of using this method (I even measured out a grid and everything!), but that was chucked out of the window very quickly. It’s one of those methods that I know is helpful and useful and makes a great image, but I loathe at the same time. One for the pure act of measuring. I hate it. It takes me too much time to measure out my grids because I’m too much of a perfectionist to let a millimeter slide. Aggravating.
So, I did layers instead. Light, almost not there contour lines to get my space down. Erase and edit as needed. Then mapped out shaded areas to the best of ability. Definitely edit as needed. Then the fun. Strategically scribble in charcoal and smudge where seen fit. But a fair warning. DO NOT wear a white T-shirt while doing this. There will be dust. Black dust. Everywhere. E. Ver. Y. WHERE. But the plus side, your fingers and hands may turn into a wonderful black and skin tone art piece in themselves. Liberating, isn’t it? Or terrifying if you’re like my former coworker. Absolutely petrified of dirty hands.
Give or take an hour or two – at this scale at least – and boom! Charcoal happiness. Granted, most of that time was due to dramatically darkening my shadows correctly and getting my proportions as accurate as possible. I love a little chiaroscuro, don’t you? Don’t forget that white charcoal pencil as well if you have that spot of dramatic light reflection. Or if you have surpassed me, you just left that spot of white canvas/paper alone. Yay progress!
One thing I almost forgot. Cheap aerosol hairspray. No to little frou-frou additives. I always try to give my charcoal stuff a healthy spray to set the charcoal, and attempt to avoid smudging. This isn’t to say it will never smudge, (double negative! Bad Nish!) but it’ll at least attempt to hold the charcoal in place.
What do you think? See anything I can improve? I always take suggestions, so if you see a spot for improvement do let me know! I love comments!
Now to just get to the store for real charcoal paper…