I love working with charcoal as it is such a malleable medium allowing it to be moved and lifted easily. Unlike graphite pencils, it does not have a ‘sheen’ and so looks the same from any angle.
I recently completed a couple of pictures in charcoal that were commissioned by a Grandmother as Mothers Day presents for her two daughters. Having met these two wee boys in person I am glad I work from photos as they never seem to stop moving. Hopefully their high energy is still apparent in the finished portrait as was obvious in the original photo their mother had captured. Select the image below for the before and after view.
The original photograph of ‘Lily’ was very bright making balancing the tone a challenge. To compensate I placed charcoal over the whole portrait and then lifted only the very the lightest tones with a putty rubber .
Only a limited toolkit is needed comprising of:
Charcoal sticks – used on their edge for broad strokes or fine detail using the tip.
Charcoal pencils in varying tones white to black – great for fine detail around the eyes an hair.
A couple of coloured pastels – useful when doing animals to add a touch of colour.
Putty rubber – used to lift the charcoal off the paper to adjust tone.
Sharpened rubber – useful for adjusting detail areas.
Tortillons for blending – used for blending detail areas where fingers just wont do.
A very sharp knife – I tend not to use a sharpener, preferring to use the knife. The sharpener more often than not breaks the top off, especially with pastel pencils.
Sandpaper – to get a very sharp point to pencils or to grind down charcoal. Ground charcoal is good for applying with your fingertip to get soft areas on the skin without leaving lines.
A rubber/eraser was used to pick out and ‘draw’ the fur detail in the picture below.
It’s pretty messy to work with, much like pastels, but as long as you keep something handy to keep clean (wet wipes or damp cloth), then your hands and work area will stay clean.
To keep the paper clean I tend to use an old tile or piece of tracing paper (the separator pages from Ingres paper pad come in handy).
The ever changing Scottish winter light is never great for indoor photography, even with a flash, so although I do use white paper, it is not always apparent from the photographs of the finished artworks.
In preparation for a some advertising at a cat show this week (thanks to Linvid Pet Hotel for the heads up and the kind offer to promote my flyers), I decided to paint a Maine Coon in soft pastels. The focus for this picture was the beautiful eyes and silky fur of these cats, and thanks to Pixabay for the reference material.
This picture was certainly a challenge due to the flecked colours in the fur of its head and trying to keep the contrast of the body fur, but using pastel pencil in an opposing method (you don’t draw with it, you hold it in your fist and stab the paper at an angle) the flecks soon started to build up. I find that it’s sometime easier to put down light first then stab with the darker colours.
Art Spectrum ‘Colourfix’ paper is great for this size of picture when using soft pastels. When drawing in the soft fur it has the added benefit of helping with the silky smooth effect when you drag your finger across the sandy “tooth” of the paper after laying down a few colours. It takes a lot of layers but works well.
For the eyes I used light turquoise, green, brown, orange, purple, black and yellow and then applying a contrasting red in the surrounding fur. This helped to give focus on the eyes.
Things get pretty intense once you get into the swing of things. Drawing from photographs is certainly not painting by numbers. The aftermath….
Anyway, off to get a frame now and I’m looking forward to meeting new people and getting some more reference material at the cat show (and who knows, maybe an order or two).
For those interested in the process of pastel painting, here are some views on how the picture ”Enjoying the View” was created.
Overall it took about 20 hours to paint and then fitted with a bespoke frame.
The initial structure of this picture was sketched “Art Spectrum – Colourfix” paper. This can be bought as paper, or a solution to paint onto paper as a base for your painting and it has a terrific “tooth” to hold the pastel pigment, removing the need for “fixing” the finished artwork (which can spoil the painting with spatter and even darken and spoil the colour).
Unlike watercolour painting, the dark tones are usually set down first then mid then light. My “go to” colour for shadows is usually a Sennelier prussian blue 287 (thank tou to Margaret Evans for this tip) and I rarely use black. To get the correct colour tone, I tend to mix on the paper (though some experimentation separately is advised in order that you do not “muddy” your colours). If you have large dark areas you can even use water to distribute the pastel pigment. This does not work as well with lighter colours
Continuing to work round the picture adding in mid and light tones and start working on finding the right colour and light balance.
Working in the detail now on the pony and mountains.
Darken the darks and lighten the lights to give depth and shadows. I always add a splash of a contrasting colour to the picture for balance. Red in this instance.
The picture is now finished and ready for framing.
A double mount and a natural wood frame seem to fit well. Overall size is 700mm x 610mm.
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