Observational sketching in charcoal is the means by which watercolorist Yael Maimon captures the lifelike feline gestures seen in her watercolors. Using a mixture of gestural lines and tonal masses, Maimon is able to imply a narrative and situate the cat subjects in an illusionistic pictorial space.
Because charcoal is a versatile medium, it’s an excellent choice for life drawing; like graphite pencils, it comes in a variety of densities that can be adapted to achieve desired effects. Maimon prefers a soft vine charcoal because its fluidity allows for the rapid execution of compositional ideas.
The mastery observed in her drawings rests in its graceful simplicity and utter disregard for the extraneous.
Charcoal Study #1
In this drawing, Maimon offers two alternative solutions to the same story—a cat peering into a goldfish bowl. As an artist working in a primarily flattened, decorative style, her compositions rely on simple, discernible shapes that have a strong graphic impact. She opts for a straight profile rather than a three-quarter view, and further emphasizes the head shape with tonal contrasts.
Given that most of Maimon’s paintings have, at best, a thin layer of paint, subtractive techniques sometimes offer the best solution to tricky rendering problems. In Eyeing the Goldfish (watercolor on paper,16×12), Maimon simply uses her fingernail to scratch a thin line into the dark paint and indicate the lip of the goldfish bowl.
Charcoal Study #2
The charcoal study shows how Maimon worked out a selective emphasis and tonal strategy before tackling color decisions. The foreground, comprising the cats’ heads, front paws and food plate, is clearly drawn and highlighted. In contrast, their bodies are loosely indicated and shaded to dissolve into the background shadow mass.
Rendering a subject so that it appears to occupy recessional space is difficult; relating two or more subjects together in the same illusionistic space is a triumph. Maimon achieves this imitation of life in Late for Dinner (watercolor on paper) by situating her subjects on a shared ground plane and implying pictorial depth by more finely drawing and highlighting the cats’ heads. She shaded and blurred the lines of their bodies so that they appear to be emerging out of the shadowy background.