Artists’ charcoal is a form of dry art medium made of finely ground organic materials that are held together by a gum or wax binder or produced without the use of binders by eliminating the oxygen inside the material during the production process. These charcoals are often used by artists for their versatile properties, such as the rough texture that leaves marks less permanent than other art media. Charcoal can produce lines that are very light or intensely black, while being easily removable, yet vulnerable to leaving stains on paper. The dry medium can be applied to almost any surface from smooth to very coarse. Fixatives are often used with charcoal drawings to solidify the position to prevent erasing or rubbing off of charcoal dusts.
The method used to create artists’ charcoal is similar to that employed in other fields, such as producing gunpowder and cooking fuel. The type of wood material and preparation method allow a variety of charcoal types and textures to be produced.
As a material used in drawing, while the crystallized carbon of the graphite used in pencils allows to move easily on the paper and to draw precise lines, and finer, thanks to the possibility of sharpening the pencil, the charcoal leaves thicker and vaguer strokes. Likewise, it lends itself to the blur, thus allowing varied effects and tones. On the other hand, graphite black tends to leave a metallic and gray luster, while the charcoal is black.
With charred wood has been drawn since time immemorial, as many cave drawings testify. Until the Middle Ages, however, it was more of a tool, for example, for preliminary drawings or for the exercise. Only with the higher estimate of hand-drawing in general and the development of suitable fixing methods from the fifteenth century were works created in this technique that were the final goal and not the preliminary stage. From then on it was fixed either by placing it in a glue bathor by coating with glue. The best method was to apply the glue to the sheet before drawing, to apply the charcoal after drying, and then soften the glue in the steam to fix the drawing. Another possibility was developed in the middle of the 16th century in Italy, where the coal was soaked in oil shortly before processing. The stroke is fuller and is hardly erasable, which also prevents a correction. In addition, the oil yellows, leaving traces. The charcoal drawing is used until the present, the fixing possibilities were significantly extended by sprays. Charcoal is also very good with gray crayons which allows the gray palette to be increased without losing the typical stroke character.
Various woods are used such as wine, willow, linden, fruit trees and others. The important thing is that the wood must be grown evenly. The coal should not be too soft, but not too hard, it smears or splinters otherwise, besides, it must blacken well. The cut rods are wrapped in clay or placed in a sealed clay pot. Then they are slowly baked in an oven. In recent times, charcoal powder is pressed into bars, which allows different degrees of hardness.
The most used wood today is willow because it allows a wide variety of diameters, homogeneity of tenderness and a good density of blacks. Other trees can be used for their manufacture: European charcoal of course, birch, spruce (in Finland), linden but also walnut, fig, plum, myrtle (in Greece) or rosemary (in Italy) and boxwood.
Imitations (Chinese in particular) of charcoal come from various trees: the thicker branches are cut in their length to imitate the size of charcoals. We recognize a natural charcoal ring surrounding its central circle (mark of its age: one year).
Depending on the part of the branch in which it was cut, the sticks can be of different sizes / diameters: fine or mignonette (2-3 mm), medium or small bush (4-6 mm), large or medium bush (7 -9 mm), very large or large bush (12-14 mm) to giant for scenography (16-24 mm).
Charcoal can be more or less tender. As for the pencil mine, the more it will be dry and the less it will mark the support, and the opposite, the more it will be soft, the more it will darken it.
There is also compressed or compressed charcoal: harder, it consists of charcoal powder mixed with a binder. It is also harder to erase.
There are various types and uses of charcoal as an art medium, but the commonly used types are: Compressed, Vine, and Pencil.
Vine charcoal is a long and thin charcoal stick that is the result of burning grape vines in a kiln without air.
Willow charcoal is a long and thin charcoal stick that is the result of burning willow sticks in a kiln without air.
The removable properties of willow and vine charcoal, through dusting and erasing, are favored by artists for making preliminary sketches or basic compositions. This also makes such charcoal less suitable for creating detailed images.
Compressed charcoal (also referred as charcoal sticks) is shaped into a block or a stick. Intensity of the shade is determined by hardness. The amount of gum or wax binders used during the production process affects the hardness, softer producing intensely black markings while firmer leaves light markings.
Charcoal pencils consist of compressed charcoal enclosed in a jacket of wood. Designed to be similar to graphite pencils while maintaining most of the properties of charcoal, they are often used for fine and crisp detailed drawings, while keeping the user’s hand from being marked.
Other types of artists’ charcoal such as charcoal crayons were developed during the 19th century and used by caricaturists. Charcoal powders are used to create patterns and pouncing, a transferring method of patterns from one surface to another.
There are wide variations in artists’ charcoal, depending on the proportion of ingredients: compressed charcoal from burned birch, clay, lamp black pigment, and a small quantity of ultramarine. The longer this mixture is heated, the softer it becomes.
Although many artists since the Renaissance have used charcoal (Leonardo da Vinci, Verrocchio, Dürer, Pontormo), few works have been preserved among which those of Carracci, Baroche, Reni or Dominiquin [ref. necessary]. The word charcoal or fusin, as an instrument of drawing, is attested in French since 1704. The artists also referred to it as Garais coal.
However, for Karl Robert, “the rise of charcoal dating back to 1847 or 1848 (p. 8). “. This usage is not unrelated to the taste of the time for rendering lights 4. More than pencils, the black stone, the blood, indeed, charcoal lends itself to flat areas and rendering the modeled (p. 10).
Classics (Prud’hon) and Romantics (Delacroix, Goya) used them as drawing instruments.
Post-Impressionists used it more extensively, such as Degas, Redon and especially Seurat. The latter made many preparatory studies for his works and pointillist (and it is the majority) of independent drawings (series of ‘blacks’) in charcoal that allowed him to work the composition by plans of values, seeking volumes without recourse at the line and analyzing the play of shadows and lights by the only means of the grays.
Lying Augustus was one of the masters of charcoal 19th century. He taught drawing in charcoal and published in 1873 a treatise on the art that was translated into several languages.
Charcoal was often a key component of Cave painting, with examples dating back to at least 28,000 years ago.
One of the oldest paintings is a picture of a zebra, found at the Apollo cave in Namibia.
In the renaissance, Charcoal was widely used, but few works of art survived due to charcoal particles flaking off the canvas. At the end of the 15th century, a process of submerging the drawings in a gum bath was implemented to prevent the charcoal from flaking away. Charcoal paintings date as far back as 23,000 BC. Since then, many cultures have utilized charcoal for art, camouflage, and in rites of passage. Many indigenous people from Australia, parts of Africa, Pacific Islands, parts of Asia, and others still practice body painting for rites of passage including child birth, weddings, spiritual rituals, war, hunting, and funerary rites. Many artists use charcoal because of its unique dark black strokes. The weak structure of charcoal causes the material to flake off onto the canvas.
Throughout western art history, artists well known for other mediums have used charcoal for sketching or preliminary studies for final paintings. Examples of contemporary artists using charcoal as a primary medium are Robert Longo, William Kentridge, Dan Pyle and Joel Daniel Phillips.
Paper used with artists’ charcoal can vary in quality. Rough texture may allow more charcoal to adhere to the paper. The use of toned paper allows different possibilities as white oil pastels (commonly referred to by the brand name Conté) can be used in combination with charcoal to create contrast.
According to account the poet Paul Valéry, 6 Degas explained his painting as the result of a series of operations beginning with the definition of drawing charcoal on paper, preferably tracing paper. Once the first drawing was made, and always on the same paper, without making use of other drawings or separate studies, he also made charcoal corrections or adjustments that he deemed appropriate, reinforcing the initial strokes. Once the drawing was complete, he could apply the color in his pastel paintingsconventionally or by means of a process of his invention, applying the fixative in successive layers from the initial drawing, and coloring on the fixative, so that the charcoal drawing remains “frozen” or sealed without alterations under the successive layers color.
It is a method in which thin, dark lines are continuously placed parallel to each-other. When done with charcoal, it comes out smoother and darker.
Rubbing is done with a sheet of paper pressed against the targeted surface then rubbing charcoal against the paper. It creates an image of the texture of the surface.
Blending is done to create smooth transitions between darker and lighter areas of a drawing. It can also create a shadow effect. Two common methods of blending are, using a finger to rub or spread charcoal which has been applied to the paper or the use of paper blending stumps also called a Tortillon. Many prefer to use a chamois, which is a soft square piece of leather.
Erasing is often performed with a kneaded rubber eraser. This is a malleable eraser that is often claimed to be self-cleaning. It can be shaped by kneading it softly with hands, into tips for smaller areas or flipped inside out to clean.
Retention of drawings
The mark of the charcoal on the support is fleeting, which has the advantage of allowing repentances and corrections, but requires, to preserve a charcoal drawing, to use a hairspray, in order to prevent the carbon from being peeled off, when any object is rubbed on the support. Used to be fixed the work by impregnating the paper from behind with a fluid varnish. There are now products in bombs or flasks (to use with a small spray mouth). It is economically possible to use hairspray but, not being intended for this purpose, it can cause inconvenience, as the yellowing of the leaf eventually.
If it is not framed, the charcoal drawing on paper will be kept between two sheets of crystal paper.
Source from Wikipedia