|One of my charcoal sketches to|
liven up the beginning of this post
I should clarify that charcoal is nothing new to me. I had used it extensively in my freshman drawing classes back in the day when I thought I was going to complete my BFA and work as an artist for the rest of my life (I may expand upon that in another post). I have dabbled with charcoal occasionally over the last 20+ years, but I had never appreciated its versatility and its power as a fine art medium. In fact, I had always dismissed charcoal as a messy and awkward sketch tool, and now I suspect that a touch of intimidation factored into my avoidance as well. Sounds dramatic, but I think other artists will understand this point.
Using a chunk of soft charcoal is nothing like sketching with a finely sharpened pencil, and anyone accustomed to working with highly controlled mediums like graphite and colored pencil is guaranteed some awkward moments when switching from one to the other. As a young timid artist, I would abandon any medium that took me outside of my comfort zone; however, as a matured (in some ways) artist with more patience, I understand that it takes a while to get comfortable with something new. In many cases, I have to do a little research, watch some YouTube videos, and check out blogs and art forums for guidance. I didn't have these resources when I was fresh out of high school. Furthermore, I had started my university fine arts program with very limited studio art experience compared to my fellow classmates. Maybe I can save a few "noobs" some of the frustration that I have felt by sharing the following information.
Affiliate Disclaimer: For full transparency, you should know that many of my links in my posts are affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when readers purchase items using my affiliate links. This helps me fund the blog domain costs, and you will not be charged extra if you buy anything using my links.
Types of Charcoal
|Here are some of my charcoal supplies with the different types labelled|
Natural, Willow, and Vine
The Charcoal Sock
A little Side Note: Edge Pro Gear has created a prefabricated charcoal sachet, which Casey has "modeled" in a promotional video for the company. It looks nicer than mine, but I cannot justify the price- it's $54 at the EPG site as of this writing, so I am not linking it out of principal. The site claims that this product was in development for a decade. I made mine in five minutes using an old sock and bits of waste charcoal- took longer to find the hammer than it did to make this thing. To be fair, I did not come up with the idea, so props to whomever did.
A Humble Demo
I took a series of photos to demonstrate how you can use different types of charcoal, specifically powdered, and the charcoal sock. I created a very simple, abstract image in a few minutes, so don't judge my abilities on this odd demo!
This first photo shows where I patted the sock against my paper (plain newsprint), prior to blending.
I used a soft, fluffy cosmetic face brush to blend
the charcoal. I didn't have to do this, but I wanted to demonstrate using a brush. You can also use any type of paint brush to blend charcoal, and you can achieve different textural effects using fabrics, tissue, stumps, sponges, or a kneaded eraser.
Here I pounced a little more charcoal onto the paper using the DIY charcoal sock. This time I only blended a little bit with the brush so I could keep some of the darker tone intact.
Next, I took one of my kneaded erasers, which I had shaped into a rough cylinder, and rolled it over the charcoal a couple of times. Since the eraser was formed into a lumpy cylinder, it skipped and wobbled when I rolled it, causing it to lift uneven amounts of the charcoal. This created a pattern different values of gray. The result, pictured at the right, reminds me of an X-ray image of really messed up vertebrae.
I used my General's 6B charcoal pencil to darken in a few areas. You can see how some areas are more three-dimensional now. I made a couple of the abstract forms into creepy skull faces, but I see countless applications for this technique (clouds, anyone?)
I added this final shot so you can see what I mean abut the shape of the eraser. There's my slightly mangled General's charcoal pencil too. I still have to work on my blade sharpening skills. I should watch that "Sharpen a Pencil Like a Boss" video a few more times!
This post is a lot longer than previous entries, so I have decided to do a separate article with my reviews of various charcoal brands. I'll have it up in the next few days, I promise! I plan to discuss General's charcoal pencils and compressed sticks; Royal & Langnickel pencils and vine and compressed sticks; and Koh-I-Noor Gioconda compressed charcoal, and Cretacolor's interesting artificial charcoal product called "Nero".
If you have anything to add to this discussion or would like me to review other brands, please let me know! I am always looking for new "cool stuff" to try and review.