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Art 201: Final Project/Charcoal

I had never tried to work in charcoal before our final segment of this semester.

And, I can promise you that I will never try to work in charcoal again. Charcoal is emphatically not my medium. I couldn’t see the end of trying to work in charcoal quickly enough.

What working in charcoal mostly reminded me of was working in clay (which isn’t my medium either). What you are doing is effectively building an image from various different textures and densities of powder, with your hands, on the paper. And then you take various kinds of eraser and chip away at all the parts of the resulting mess that don't fit in your image.

And of course you get completely filthy doing it. And, what is more, once the dirt gets well worked into the paper, (which is the whole point) there is no getting it completely out. No matter how hard you erase.201-ink

When you are finished, you have an image which is made up of shapes, not lines.

Admittedly, I can appreciate a bit more of the kind of art done in charcoal by someone else (particularly now that I know something of what it entails). But if I’m going to be drawing something, I want to do it with lines. Preferably nice crisp lines.

Or stipple. I'm completely all right with stipple. In fact, on my ink midterm, I'd have happily stopped with my solid black stipple and given a pass on the ink wash altogether.

But the third part of the semester was working in charcoal, so working in charcoal I was.

We spent a bit more time on charcoal than we had on ink, but not a lot more. And our final project, like the stipple and cross hatch ink exercises were of still life setups to be done in the classroom, mostly during class sessions — although we could work on our own outside class if we took reference photos. I did, and put a fairly long session in over one of the weekends during the two weeks we had in which to get these assignments done.

The setups (there were three of them) each contained a mannequin, or other statuary, a couple of containers (jugs, bottles, pots, gourds), draped fabric pinned to the wall, some other fabric usually associated with the mannequin, and a horse’s skull. With a spotlight trained on each setup. The instructor requested that we each do a composition using one simple and one complex element, and to add a background element of our own. As with pretty much all of our assignments this semester, we were to fill the 18x24-inch sheet.

Well, the angle that the spotlight came in at was such that the cast shadow of the mannequin broke up into an odd triple shadow, which struck me as the most interesting thing in the setup. So I made that my centerpiece.

After the pig’s breakfast that I had made of our prior two charcoal assignments, which were eyeballed, (believe me, you don't want to see them) I took a reference photo and did the grid-and-transfer method of layout which we'd used for the pencil midterm. It left grooves in the paper, which the charcoal never got completely worked down into, so in person there are fine, pale lines outlining most of the edges of things, but you can't see them unless you get right up on them, and I'd rather have pale outlines than to have the elements the wrong size or in the wrong place.

My “background” (the lettering) is in the foreground. And is not as striking as it might have been, had it been possible to completely erase the dirt that was already worked into the paper. But it isn’t, so I have sort-of “translucent” letters.

I think it came out reasonably well (it looks a bit better in person). But I'm still never going to touch charcoal again if I can help it. Don't like that stuff at all.