Cheap, plentiful, environmentally-friendly, and you can create a masterpiece with it. We should all use more charcoal.
|Portrait of my friend Jane in charcoal, by Carol L. Douglas.|
|Charcoal is a great way to work out difficult drawing problems before you commit the problem to paint. Feet by Carol L. Douglas.|
|This was a preparatory sketch for a painting. By Carol L. Douglas.|
Charcoal is the cheapest medium in which one can create a masterpiece with staying power. For example, there are many works on paper by Edgar Degas done in charcoal and white pastel. He and other great masters used charcoal extensively.
|Charcoal allows us to work out compositional questions. By Carol L. Douglas.|
Choose a paper with a dull finish so that the charcoal can bite into the surface. Charcoal doesn’t stick well to hot-pressed, smooth papers like Bristol. It’s best on a fine-toothed, dull paper, but a rough tooth is also appropriate at times, although it raises more dust. My solution is to buy Canson’s Mi-Tientes, which has a different surface on either side, but there are many fine papers for charcoal work, including Canson Ingres, Strathmore 500 Series and Fabriano Tiziano. You shouldn’t need to use fixative to get the charcoal to adhere; if you do, try a different paper.
Compressed charcoal is powdered charcoal bound with gum or wax. It’s harder than vine or willow charcoal, meaning it can be sharpened to do very fine work. However, it’s not appropriate for using under paintings, because the binding can bleed. It doesn’t blend or erase as well. I never use it.
|Seated figure, by Carol L. Douglas|
Willow and vine charcoals are made of burnt grape vines or willow branches. They have no added binders, making them easier to erase. This charcoal can be used to sketch on canvas before painting in oils or acrylics; it will just vanish into the bottom layers of your work. It’s very light and makes soft, powdery lines.
“It takes a steady, careful, and patient hand to use charcoal,” an online student remarked yesterday. Only sometimes! Charcoal is an infinitely varied medium, in which one can make smooth graduations of value as well as slashing, dark strokes.