The Work Of Contemporary Charcoal Artists

By Sharron Cantu

Traditionally, charcoal has been appreciated for its many qualities. It was extensively used in past centuries for creating preparatory drawings. These drawings would then be painted over this without the color of the paint being affected. Contemporary charcoal artists are experimenting with this medium today and finding new and innovative ways to express themselves.

No matter what genre you admire, there are examples to be found. You can even commission a portrait if this is what you are looking for. A portrait artist will most likely work from photographs to produce the portrait. Many realistic drawings are available from those of wildlife to landscapes. There are also more abstract works dealing with emotions and concepts such as cultural differences and relationships. Surreal, mystical drawings are also available if this is what you are looking for.

The basic tools used are mostly the same. Choosing the right paper to work on is important as it should have the right tooth to hold the particles of material. A thick, grainy paper is often preferred for this reason. Sticks of charcoal are made from a slow burning of willow twigs to turn the wood into carbon. A version which is harder to spread and erase but produces darker marks is the compressed form. This is powdered and mixed with gum to bind it. A powder may be used to cover large areas of a drawing. Kneaded erasers are used to lift material off the surface and a blending stamp helps to blend and smear material.

Canvas, paints, stretchers and turpentine are not needed. Despite the simplicity of the materials, they are very versatile. Shading, texture and different tones can be produced with experience. After all, this is how artists using any kind of media look at the world and seek to translate it.

When the medium one uses does not rely on color to create beauty, it is more important than ever to use highlights, mid-tones and shadows to great effect. An artist has to learn to do this in order to capture the necessary depth. A little more or less pressure, some erasing, blending and smearing all work together to produce varying values.

This medium is not permanent and this has advantages and disadvantages. It has a flexibility as it is easily erased, spread and blended. However, a fixative has to be used on completion to make it permanent. Various types of fixatives can be used, some of which are more permanent than others.

There are people using this medium today who continually push the boundaries of what has been attempted before. One such artist is a dancer and she draws on a large scale, capturing body movements on paper. Another artist shoots short films, capturing his drawings frame by frame in a sequence to show their evolution.

Drawings in this medium are available from many online sources. One can browse through numerous works before choosing a particular drawing. Choices made depend on many factors such as personal preference and budget. This is one of the longest surviving artistic mediums and it offers a unique way of capturing subtle tones, emotions and gestures by intuitive use of light and dark.

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