Posts Tagged ‘drawing’

When laying eyes on a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, one’s first reaction is often awe. Once the awe settles, one’s second reaction is often how on earth did the artist do that? While infinite factors play in to creating a beautifully satisfying drawing (proper measuring, composition, gesture, form, light, *gasp* emotion…), it is imperative to set these factors into motion with the proper materials; and when using these materials, one should prepare them in an exacting manner; and for a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, it behooves one to have finely-sharpened charcoal.

The charcoal drawings from the Aristides Atelier are made using H (hard) and HB (medium) and, on occasion, B (soft) vine charcoal. While Savoire Faire Nitram charcoals were favored by many, they have since gone out of business; at present, new students favor Prismacolor, Grumbacher, or Windsor and Newton. Here, Katt displays her unsharpened sticks of Prismacolor vine charcoal.

Unsharpened Vine Charcoal

In order to sharpen your charcoal, you will need a sheet of 220 grit sandpaper. Many students find it helpful to cut this paper down to a smaller, more manageable size. If you like, you can glue your sandpaper to a small piece of masonite, as you will want to have it against a hard surface when you are sharpening your charcoal. When using this method, make sure that your sandpaper and masonite are cut to the same size.

Sanding Pad

If you have not glued your sandpaper to a masonite board, the edge of any hard surface is suitable. Place your stick of charcoal flat against the surface of the sandpaper, being careful not to press too hard– this could result in your delicate vine charcoal snapping in half– and gently sharpen as you rotate the charcoal to give even treatment to each side. Bear in mind that this is a somewhat slow process; you want your charcoal to slowly build up to a needle-fine point and long taper. Again, try not to put pressure on your charcoal while sharpening, as this may cause the point to snap.

Sanding Seen from Above

Sanding Seen from Down Low

Viola! Your charcoal is sharpened and ready to go. You will notice that the stick has a very long taper– this is ultimately time-saving when you are mid-drawing, as you do not have to sharpen these sticks as frequently. It is suggested that you sharpen as many sticks of charcoal as possible prior to working on your drawing; this allows for more time spent on beautiful rendering and less time on sharpening.

Sharpened Charcoal

And, lastly, what should one do with those tiny little charcoal nubs? Don’t toss them just yet. Katt has come up with an ingenious method that allows for one to salvage the last bits of charcoal and make them perfectly use-able for rendering. Simply use electrical or artist’s tape to secure them to a small bamboo skewer (you can cut the skewer for a comfortable length) and sharpen accordingly.

Nubs Before

Nubs After

Happy drawing & tremendous hugs and thanks to Katt for sharpening charcoal for these photos!


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Another year at the Aristides Atelier has drawn to a close.

Aristides Atelier Program Opening

Being one who thrives with structure (i.e. having to be in a set place, on a set schedule), this is a slight source of anxiety for me. Seattle has wakened in the beautiful (albeit distracting) glow of green and mountains and balmy Summer temperatures, and I’m faced with the less-structured months ahead. The remedy to this is writing my own schedule (write for the Atelier site, finish projects, illustrate, and/or work on color [!] charts on these days, at this time) and putting together some semblance of a workspace in our tiny, tiny apartment… but I digress.

What I am saying good-bye to after this, my second of four years in the Atelier, is grisaille: “a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey.”

I spent my first year of study drawing: I drew from still-life, from master copies, and from the model; I sharpened charcoal to needly little points (more on that later) and spent many a meditative and/or frustrating hour turning Fabriano Ingres paper into meticulously rendered velvet; I came close to losing vision when leaning my face this close to the surface in order to pick out that one microscopic fleck of dark that no-one but myself would ever notice. You’d think that I’d have been tickled pink to move on to paint, yes? Think again: I was terrified. I’d always been more frustrated with my lack of painting ability than I had with my lack of drawing ability, and here I was about to come face-to-face with my demon.

Deep breath.

It wasn’t so bad. It was, in fact, utterly frustrating and hair-pulling and tear-inducing… but bad? It wasn’t anything close to the frustration of panel-tossing and brush-snapping that I’d experienced prior to beginning my classical realist studies. I wasn’t fumbling blindly; I was given a set way to go about things; and that year of painstaking drawing turned painting into something that finally made sense.

I was given the proper way to mix my grey scale from a mere three tubes of paint (again, painstaking, but somehow soothing).

Grisaille Palette

I broke down tone to its simplest elements in the form of poster studies.

Poster Study of Courbet's La Bacchante

And finally, somehow, painting the figure and the still life started to make sense.

First Grisaille Figure Study: Handsclasped (Yma) - oil on panel - 2009

First Grisaille Still Life: Sleepyhead (Self Portrait Cast) - oil on panel - 2010

That’s not to say that, months after the above paintings were completed, I don’t still have my problems: why do my whites dry out so dark? Why can’t my transitions be smoother? Why isn’t my brushwork as even as her’s? And why isn’t there the luxury of a whole other year to spend on grisaille before plummeting headfirst into a new year of new terrors?

Au revoir, l’an deux. Au revoir (for now), Atelier. Grisaille? We will see each other ’til we part ways in September.

Arstides Atelier students with the donors to the Madison Studio - Best of Gage - 2010

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