Sunday, September 20, 2009

Drawing Tip #22: Painting with Charcoal

Given my love of experimentation with charcoal, I'm surprised I never tried this earlier. Perhaps I was afraid, as I love charcoal precisely because it is a dry medium. But it is a wonderfully water-soluble material, and though I routinely paint with charcoal dust, I have never painted with charcoal dust and water. Until now! I don't have any finished drawings (or even in-progress drawings) to show using this technique, but I am so excited by it that even though I really should be going to bed I am instead writing this post.

The method is simple. Grid up some soft charcoal with sandpaper or purchase a bottle of charcoal powder, and find a decent paintbrush. The one I chose was a $2 soft round-tip brush, the one I use for painting with dry powder. I'm sure any brush for watercolor would be fine.

For this test, I just poured a small pile of powder onto my paper, which happened to be a scrap of smooth bristol paper. Then I wet the brush and swirled it around and started playing. The results are wonderful. The paper doesn't hold up well, though, which I expected. Typically water media do better with rougher paper. You can get a wide range of values from very light to pretty dark. I can foresee uses for underpainting as well as just plain painting in black and white. The best way to implement this is not to mix your charcoal right on the paper, of course, but to have perhaps another paper or a plastic palette to mix first, test the value, then apply to the drawing. Try it out! And apparently it works for graphite, too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I tend to draw primarily mammals, but falcons have a special meaning to me. One of the falcon species native to my area is the peregrine, famous for being the fastest animal on earth, with speeds topping 300mph in their headfirst dives. I wanted to capture this in a drawing.

After being nearly wiped out by DDT in the '70s, the peregrine has made a full comeback in population. I recently had the opportunity to attend a seminar on raptor identification, focusing on the species here in New Mexico. Falcons have two key features: first, the area around the eye is completely devoid of feathers and matches the cere (area around the nose) in color. Second, they all have a malar stripe, a dark patch of feathers that goes straight down from the center of the eye, though the stripe is sometimes hard to identify in individuals with a full dark cheek.

Falcons' greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. The raptor can dive fast from great heights and knock flying birds out of the sky, catch them, and fly off to eat. Because of their speed and concentration on their next meal, they cannot see the power lines in their way. An impact with a power line can sever a wing, or cause severe tissue damage or electrocution. A portion of sales of prints and the original will go to The Wildlife Center which
rescues and rehabilitates these beautiful birds.

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Exhibit in Texas

I wanted to share the great news I got late last night, that my penguins have been accepted to the 8th Annual Wildlife Juried Art Competition, put on by the Irving Arts Association of Irving Texas. The exhibit will run from October 4 through October 29, 2009, at the Jaycee Center for the Arts. This will be my first non-local exhibit, and I am rather excited! If you are in the area, check it out!

Also, this morning I found out that my zebras have been chosen as Pick of the Day at 1stAngel, an art website based in the UK.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Book Review: Design and Composition, Nathan Goldstein

Design and Composition book by Nathan GoldsteinAs I've mentioned before, I am a self-taught artist. I search out books to be my teachers, and so far they have taught me many lessons in techniques in different media. This I have been practicing for nearly two years. I decided it's time I learned a thing or two about composition. I knew the basics, such as the rule of thirds, but I wanted something more. After much searching on Amazon, I selected this book, Design and Composition by Nathan Goldstein. My version is strictly black and white, simply a photocopy print of the original color version. Even though it is just a black and white copy, it comes with a hefty price tag.

The book is structured in two parts. The first discusses several basic elements of drawing and painting, namely line, shape, value, volume, space, texture, and color. I found it difficult to get into the book, as the writing can be dry, especially in the first couple chapters. But once I got to the chapter on value, I couldn't put it down. He discusses the importance of balance, and uses case studies of famous paintings and drawings to show the effects of each of the elements.

The last two chapters are the best part, in my opinion. He describes 15 different layouts found in virutally all paintings (most have more than one of these layouts), including the effect of each (like the stable grid or the peaceful horizontal format or the high-energy radial burst) and things to look out for when using them (like not separating out the leftover rectangle in the L-shape layout). Then he describes 15 different modes of presentation, such as shallow or deep space, density of subjects, and emphasis on value, color or texture. Finally, he takes several paintings and takes them apart to see what makes their compositions work.

The one thing I disliked about the book was the photos. In general, most of the images were poorly reproduced, grainy or blocky. The black and white colorplates often contained a grid pattern that severely distracted from the content. I figured I didn't need the color as I work in black and white, but I do feel I missed something without the color.

I learned a tremendous amount from this book, but the author was careful not to allow his observations to become hard and fast "rules" of composition - they are merely guidelines. It is the artist, after all, that must add the feeling and passion into a painting, and that cannot be taught.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cold Wind

Alaskan tundra wolf charcoal drawing
This drawing is really more like a painting. With the exceptions of the eyes, nose and mouth, I used charcoal powder with a paintbrush or the chamois to keep the texture light and airy. (Hey, there's a future drawing tip idea!) The wolf depicted is the Alaskan tundra wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf. 18"x24".

Prints are available!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Matter of Scale

On a recent recommendation from another art blogger, I've decided to post new photos of my framed work to help convey the scale. Here are four hung over my couch (others on my regular website). Actually, the zebras aren't framed yet but that's what I envision it will look like.