Saturday, May 24, 2008

Exploring White Charcoal

Charcoal comes in three flavors (that I know of): white, dark and milk- I mean, black and sepia. Charcoal sounds like chocolate to me sometimes... Anyway, I recently bought some black paper and white charcoal to experiment with. I have a great idea for a drawing I'd like to do with them, but since I've never used black paper before, I thought I'd experiment first. Here are a few things I have discovered so far.

First, I greatly dislike the paper I chose. It was the only black paper the store had, and since it was wrapped in plastic I couldn't get a look at the texture. This is Strathmore black charcoal paper, 64lb. It is ribbed. Literally, the tooth is aligned in regularly spaced vertical lines (called traditional laid pattern), which makes it rather difficult to work details on. The back of the paper, however, is much smoother and much easier to draw on, but the downside is it is not as black. This will be okay for some pieces, but I want to do a night scene and need to have the paper as dark as possible. I have heard other artists use black mat board, so I might try that next. But for now, this will suffice to practice on. (It's also bound with a wire spiral, so after you tear off the sheet you have to cut off those annoying tabs.)

Second, drawing white on black is much different than drawing black on white. With regular pencil or charcoal on white paper, you draw the shadows, essentially. You draw the dark parts. I am accustomed to this. With white charcoal on black paper, you draw the highlights. Everything is backward. To make shadows, you press more lightly. To make highlights, you press harder. It sounds simple, but it's almost like learning to draw all over again.

Third, the kneaded eraser doesn't work as well. I actually use my Clic to do most of the erasing, while saving the kneaded for lightening- I mean, darkening areas. It is making detail work difficult, especially where I would use a pointed kneaded eraser to make texture.

Fourth, the blending stump works about the same. I started a fresh one for the white so I wouldn't mix in the black charcoal. It is helping to spread out the white into the crevasses of the ribs of the paper.

And fifth, white charcoal is very soft, like 6B black charcoal. The pencil version is hard to sharpen because the charcoal keeps getting crushed. I have to do it carefully by hand to prevent this.

I'm going to experiment a little more, and I hope in a few days I'll be able to post a completed drawing. If this works out, I have a lot of ideas to try.

Edit, Jan. 11, '09: The sepia sticks and pencils I thought were charcoal were actually Conte', a drawing material made from charcoal mixed with clay. It turns out that Derwent makes a pack of tinted charcoal in 24 different colors that I may have to try out at some point. This charcoal is tinted with clay and other pigments, but lightfastness varies by color.


Metal Wall Art said...

A softer charcoal is easier to smudge: it’s the one that will get all over your hands, your paper, and probably your clothing and face too!

Heather Ward said...

Yes, and I find I have been using the softer ones more often these days. I prefer using them in pencil form precisely so I don't get so messy!