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Working with charcoal

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

I wasn't always drawn to charcoal as a medium. In fact I find that the children I teach also dislike it for the same reasons as me: it's messy and it smudges the whole time! But, as always, the joy is in the technique and it was only once I discovered a method that worked for me that I could pursue charcoal as a medium.

I did a workshop once at the school where I work with a UK artist called Rachel Gadsden. In this technique you cover the entire sheet of paper with charcoal (not the pencil version but rather the charcoal on its own). The next step then is to erase highlights out from the black paper and the more you erase-the lighter the highlights then get. You can also use conte or white chalk to further create more highlights and in the same way you can use black and grey conte (and even compressed charcoal) to create shadows.

The picture below is an example of this process in action. I find charcoal to be quite a potent medium - it has quite a visual oomph! This is a drawing of a photo that was taken with a phone of a car driving through the wall of the building in which I live. I like the way the debris seems to emerge out of the darkness in this work.

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