|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. Artist Chris Wynter would say that 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. In his DVD, Dynamic Charcoal
Drawing Lessons, Wynter shows how all of that is charcoal's power and
beauty. I try to be mindful of this most of all because I want to be in tune
with my medium—not fighting it—so that I can learn its full capabilities and
make the best work I 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.