I did my fair share of charcoal drawings in art school. I wasn’t a big fan of the dust that ended up everywhere. On the days of the classes that required charcoal, I always wore black. There was no other way to get around messing up your clothes otherwise.
Here’s a revisit decades later.
Lately, it seems I get pulled into projects that I see other artists doing. Simply put, what they’re doing looks like fun and I wanna try it too. This leopard portrait is one of them.
To be true to the artist and the project she was working on, I used exactly the same materials. In this case, that consisted of Canson Mi-Teintes toned pastel paper and General’s black (soft, medium, and hard) and white charcoal pencils. In addition, I also used paper stumps and Sofft Tools mini applicators for blending. The reference photo came from Unsplash, free high-resolution royalty-free photos. And because this was going to be shipped from Hawaii to California, I sprayed it with Spectrafix. I prefer this brand because this brand doesn’t alter your charcoal or pastels as much as other brands. Other brands can darken or change your charcoals/pastels, which really sucks after you’ve spent hours to get it just right.
Note on the Spectrafix: Pour this into a super fine mist spray bottle to avoid larger droplets.
My experience with charcoal drawings this time around wasn’t so bad. There wasn’t nearly as much dust as when I was in school. The big difference was the type of charcoal used. In school we primarily used charcoal sticks, not pencils. I think the wood casing helps minimize the dust to some degree. It certainly saves your hands from turning black. Also, the harder the charcoal, the less dust you have to deal with. I basically used the soft only in areas that I needed to be super dark.
The medium itself is great for three reasons.
#1…It’s super cheap! Who can argue with price when so many artist’s mediums are so stinking expensive?
#2…It’s super forgiving. If you make a mistake it’s pretty easy to blend it out or add more charcoal on top to cover the error.
#3…It’s a fast medium. You can cover a lot of territory fast with charcoal!
All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience and given the speed with which I was able to complete it, I can see myself doing more charcoal drawings in the future.
Final note: To prevent hand smudges, use Glassine rather than regular paper. It’s waxy surface not only protects the artwork from the oils in your skin, it also prevents charcoal transferring from your artwork to the Glassine. If you use regular paper, you’ll not only notice that the artwork smears, but it transfers to the paper also.
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