Making Marks – 4 Using Charcoal

In this exercise ‘Using Charcoal’ I experiment drawing lines of varying thickness, doing blocks of shading in different grades of darkness, creating patterns as well as using my putty rubber to create highlights.

I hadn’t used charcoal before starting this course and so was was eager to get on with this exercise as charcoal has some very appealing qualities. However the first lesson I learnt is that the patterns you create with the same stick of charcoal change according to the paper you are using it on. Before filling up the squares in my rough 150 gsm sketchbook I practised on a smooth 125 gsm large sheet of paper and as you can see below the outcome was completely different, especially with the charcoal being able to be smoothed more easily on the large sheets of paper. Another valuable lesson I learnt was that if there are any indentations paper in the caused by pencil on previous pages these will show up in the charcoal so you should start any work with charcoal on a fresh sheet.

125 paper smoothe
Compressed Charcoal on Smooth 125 gsm Paper

I started this exercise with compressed charcoal not actually knowing the difference between the two types of charcoal I purchased or the different qualities they had. On the smooth paper the compressed charcoal produced smooth dark strokes that could be smoothed with the finger quite easy but on the rough paper the texture reminded me more of a wax crayon with less contact and more white space. I also had trouble producing defined highlights with the putty rubber on the rough paper. Using the edge of the tip of the compressed charcoal I could create a nice hatching effect over different shades of darkness as you can see in the bottom left box of the image below.

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Working with Compressed Charcoal (Rough 150 gsm)

On the next page I filled in the first square again using the compressed charcoal before opening the second packet of charcoal I bought discovering it was what I now know to be willow charcoal. Willow charcoal is a lot lighter and a lot softer and worked well on the rough paper of my 150 gsm paper of my sketchbook, allowing me to use my putty rubber more easily to give me more defined marks.

125 rough2
Compressed Charcoal Compared to Willow Charcoal

Overall I like working with charcoal it can be very expressive and some of the patterns I created with it  were almost 3D. I don’t think that it is so great for small detailed images but rather an excellent medium for drawing large scale images, both compressed charcoal and willow charcoal have a wonderful soft texture on all be it a different tooth of paper. I did also used a charcoal pencil for certain detail such as hatching, I have yet to make up my mind whether this would be great for small scale detailed drawings with charcoal.

125 smooth 2
Compressed Charcoal Smooth 125 gsm
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