Charcoal is one of my favourite mediums. For me its qualities place it somewhere between drawing and painting. It is a perfect medium to use in contemporary art. The marks and effects you can create seem infinite, and I find myself surprised with every piece I draw or class I teach. When I first started using charcoal I was amazed to discover that there were different types. As well as standard vine or willow there is also compressed charcoal which produces a rich dark velvety black. Compressed charcoal behaves in a completely different way to willow charcoal. I particularly love powdered charcoal which can be applied with a sponge to produce a smooth flat plane of tone.
I find the drawings of Frank Auerbach particularly inspiring and this self portrait, which took over 70 sitting to complete is one of my favourites. After each sitting Auerbach would completely erase the drawing with such ferocity as too completely rub through the paper. You can see in this image where he has added patches. But as anyone who has used charcoal will know you can never completely eliminate the charcoal marks. It is the traces that are left each time that together build up the wonderful depth that you can see in this piece.
Auerbach’s paintings are produced in a similar way, but instead of removing the underlying layer he just builds on top creating a painting that is almost three dimensional.
This piece by Ann Symes who runs Gallery57 in Arundel, shows a complete contrast in her application and use of Charcoal. Ann uses charcoal powder which creates a very flat area of tone, building up different total layers. This creates depth in a completely different way.
The wonderful softness that can be created by charcoal lends itself beautifully to the soft curved forms produced by Georgia O’Keeffe. Known widely for her paintings, O.Keeffe gave some of her charcoal drawings to a friend in New York, who in turn showed them to photographer Alfred Stieglitz. He declared, “At last, a woman on paper!” Between 1911 and 1918 while working as a teacher she created her most exemplary abstracts in charcoal on white paper.
For me using charcoal is about the deep contrast you can achieve, particularly when using compressed charcoal and the way the medium can be moved around the paper. I always trying to capture a sense of movement in my work and charcoal is the only drawing medium that allows me to do this. I run a regular Charcoal class at Cass Art, Brighton. Please contact me for more details.
Angela Edwards ©2020.