|Untitled (#April 08) by Hilary Brace, charcoal on polyester film, 6 x 11.625.|
In the past, I have had a love-hate thing going with charcoal. Basically, I love it and it hates me. Seriously! I love what charcoal can do. The fact that you can use a stick of charcoal to create so many different kinds of marks—you can get an almost wash-like effect with one swipe, or turn it on its edge and use it like a traditional pencil. You can make strong, stark lines or work with it so it seems like there are no lines at all, just pure shadow. I'm amazed by the subtle variations of gradation that charcoal can create, and I love the fact that charcoal drawing is all about big gestures and shapes and not the fussy little details.
|Speak Easy by Timothy Jahn, charcoal drawing, 5 x 7.|
But for all the things I love about it, I've never been sure how to harness its potential. I mean, charcoal can definitely be a challenge to control. You have to get into a good rhythm, working with a certain amount of pressure and a certain amount of natural fluidity. It's not easy, and it is hard to go back, which usually means I freeze up like a deer in headlights. I tend to tense up and overthink things when there is no reverse gear in a medium.
So even though I know it is going to be an uphill battle and I'm not going to turn into a skilled user overnight (or in the next decade), I'm still keeping my eyes on the prize. I would love to create charcoal drawings like Hilary Brace, whose abstract cloud-water-sky forms are so subtle and have such a force of motion that I kind of feel like I'm experiencing vertigo; or give my drawings a nostalgic feeling like Timothy Jahn, whose charcoals are like objects out of time. They look like old photographs and have a mysterious, shadowy quality that I'm drawn to.
Looking at the works of all these great artists and knowing how far the medium can be pushed, I'm glad to know that I'm on the right track now, with the caliber of artist-instructors I follow. And what's funny is that so many of them have graced the pages of Drawing magazine over the years. And now the Drawing 10 Year CD is available with a decade's worth of issues all on one disc. Enjoy!
P.S. Whose work in charcoal inspires you? Leave a comment and let me know!