23 August 2016

Drawing Tuesday - thinking about charcoal

Last Tuesday I was drawing to make monoprints in the drawing-painting-printmaking class, and others in the group had other plans, so there are no group pictures to show.

Instead, some thoughts about charcoal. Some people are averse to how messy it is, and hate to use it. It's a choice, fine; best not to moan and groan about it. 

Consider the origin of the material: burnt wood. Carefully burnt wood, driving out the impurities, to leave carbon that can then be burnt to produce high temperatures. Modern industry depended on charcoal in its development, to make the steel that made the machines that revolutionised industry. 

"Historically, charcoal was produced by piling wood in a cone-shaped mound and covering it with dirt, turf, or ashes, leaving air intake holes around the bottom of the pile and a chimney port at the top. The wood was set afire and allowed to burn slowly; then the air holes were covered so the pile would cool slowly.

This method of charcoal production generates a significant amount of smoke. In fact, changes in the color of the smoke signal transitions to different stages of the process. Initially, its whitish hue indicates the presence of steam, as water vapors are driven out of the wood. As other wood components such as resins and sugars burn, the smoke becomes yellowish. Finally the smoke changes to a wispy blue, indicating that charring is complete; this is the appropriate time to smother the fire and let the kiln's contents cool. " (from here)
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What about artists' charcoal? You can make your own - here's a video showing how, and there are many other instructions.

"The type of wood material and preparation method allows different variation of charcoal to be produced" says wikipedia, which - in an article that needs some editing - also explains the difference between compressed, vine, and pencil charcoal - gum or wax binder for compressed; traditional burning for vine, and enclosure in wood for pencil. 
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"Willow charcoal is soft and forgiving, and yet strong and powerful. It creates velvety rich blacks and a wealth of atmospheric greys from smudging and blending." says this specialist maker.

As for charcoal drawings themselves - the one that inspired this post is by Judith Holt, shown in 2011 in the "Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze" exhibition -
Also I fell in love with the charcoal drawings of ceramicist Gordon Baldwin [and with his pots] when by chance I first came across them -
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Gordon Baldwin's studio in 2005 (via)
"A Peripheral Vision", his drawings from 2015, are here.

Julia Polonski's large drawings, seen at Art in Action some years ago, are done in charcoal (and graphite). Here's "Seam" -
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William Kentridge uses charcoal for his animations and for drawings, such as these -
He says: "Drawing is a non-verbal thinking process. One of the things about charcoal drawing is that it is instantly alterable - you can change it as quickly as you can think. One wipe of a cloth and the image disappears or is smudged and you can rethink it. The flexibility of drawing is important. There's an immediacy of drawing, of thinking in drawing, which is vital for me."

Probably most artists have done their share of charcoal drawings, and a few get exhibited. David Hockney, for example -
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And then there's charcoal drawing as a performance -
Heather Hansen (via)
Messy!

2 comments:

Charlton Stitcher said...

More lovely pleasures to explore here (and some to revisit) when I have time and a decent internet connection. Gordon Baldwin and his pots and drawings seem especially worth perusal ... when I'm next home.

Stitchinscience said...

Thank you for this post Margaret. So much to explore here. When I started my drawing classes a couple of years ago, I really didn't like the mess of working with charcoal, and actively avoided it. However, I am coming to the conclusion that the opportunity that charcoal gives, to make large, dense marks, really suits my evolving style of drawing. I just need to find a space to draw at home where I can actually make those large marks!

Thanks for your very interesting posts, which are keeping me artistically stimulate while family support is taking my time plus physical and mental energy.