|Matthew Carr refused to use pure white in his drawings,
treating his surface with charcoal before he began.
(Gordon, 2006, conté pencil on prepared charcoal paper,
56 1/2 x 44.)
As you all might remember, charcoal drawing and I haven't always worked well together. Largely it's been my hang-ups that have been a sore spot between us, one of those being that I tend to stumble when going back and reworking a charcoal drawing. I was always uncertain how to retrace my steps, but here are a few of the tactics I use that have really helped me see charcoal in a new way.
I put myself in the mindset of working from dark to light. As an exercise I'll start by laying down the charcoal in really heavy strokes to cover the whole page with black. Then I'll do a simple drawing using just a kneaded eraser to pull back the charcoal to give me highlights and middle tones. It's messy but this gives me an awareness that a charcoal drawing doesn't have to start on white paper. Sometimes, I'll also cover the whole surface with a light layer of charcoal and create a drawing using the surface as my middle tone.
I've also learned the lesson that if I want to go back, using a really smooth paper works well because I don't have to press as hard with a kneaded eraser to remove marks. And charcoal sticks instead of pencils are a must. The charcoal goes on with broader, shallower strokes that way. Pencils tend to dig in and leave grooves in the paper.
|Carr's process was to use a hard eraser
to remove passages of charcoal and
expose the white of the paper.
(Mimi, 2006, conté pencil on prepared
charcoal paper, 78 x 56.)
Going in with a white conté crayon also allows me to revisit passages within a charcoal drawing. I usually have to use a kneaded eraser, but the addition of these white highlights can give dimension to a work if I haven't been deft enough to preserve those areas of the paper.
But I'd say the most successful tactic I've used is getting comfortable with the nature of the medium of charcoal and other drawing media. So I think to myself, I don't need to put on the brakes with charcoal or need to learn how to draw charcoal "in reverse" because the point and power of the medium is the freedom and the gesture of it, and the subtle gradations you make with each successive layer. Instead of pulling back, I need to push forward with my explorations. Get messy, make mistakes, and keep everything on the table. In Strokes of Genius 6, the power and beauty of drawing is harnessed, showing us what can happen when we are in tune with our medium—not fighting it—learning its full capabilities and making the best work we can. Enjoy!
Do you believe in going back when you are painting or drawing or do you think it is best to always make forward progress? Leave a comment and let me know.