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by S.A. Barone

 Charcoal drawings have appeared in the earliest primitive cave drawings by early humans.  Experts believe that these drawings were created with the charcoal from burnt sticks.

Currently, three kinds of charcoals are used in art, Powdered, compressed and vine charcoal.  In powder form, charcoal is used to get a desired shade and tone.  Charcoal pencils consist of compressed charcoal powder and a gum binder.  This type produces fine, sharp lines.  Vine charcoal, is also used for drawing.   It is very soft and light and smears very easily.  Vine charcoal is great for shading, and filling in large areas in large scale drawings.  Charcoal has often been viewed as a preliminary medium for sketching or drawing before painting. Personally I love charcoal drawings and sketches.  However, if charcoal is the only medium used a fixative must be applied otherwise the charcoal will smudge, smear, and the drawings will all but disappear.  I know it happened to me once.

Charcoal allows the artist to achieve texture, shading and tone with ease.  It is easy to apply and does not adhere to the grooved surfaces of canvases.  This is good because it gives the artist the freedom to create smooth drawings that are easily corrected.

Throughout the Renaissance era, most artists used charcoal to prepare their panel paintings or fresco murals.  Artists also used charcoal in their drawing studies.  Some artists used charcoal alone or with chalks and ink to create stunning masterpieces.

Some of the greatest masters in art used charcoal.  Michelangelo used charcoal in his famous painting, "Study of a Man Shouting”  French sculptor, Antoine-Louis Baryen used charcoal to create “Dead Young Elephant.”  German expressionist Ernst Barlach created many charcoal drawings.  His “Self-Portrait,” in 1928, clearly captured his weariness and frustrations with life.

Charcoal’s use continued beyond the Renaissance, sweeping through the Romantic period and into the 20th century.  Charcoal is one of the world’s longest surviving artistic media.  Charcoal has provided a means to sketch and draw with increased attention to quality, tone and subtly.  Artists continue to use this medium today in the same way the old masters did, to capture both gestures and emotions with an intuitive mixture of the soft and the dark.

I can’t tell you how many times I have used charcoal to sketch on my canvases before starting a painting.  It is easily brushed off or sometime it just disappears into the paint.

 Happy Painting, Sketching & Drawing!

S. A. Barone

Shirley is a published children’s writer. She has publishing credits in Highlights for Children, Turtle, Children’s Playmate, Humpty Dumpty, and Chicken Soup for the Pre-teen Soul. Shirley has won a Distinguished Meritorious Service Award from the California School Boards Association for authoring an elective program that was adopted in schools in the Western United States and in areas of New York City. To learn more about Shirley and her art, visit www.sabarone.com

Editor's Note:
Handy tools to have on hand when using charcoal for drawing are "Dawn" liquid dish soap - for cleaning your hands, a small piece of soft leather (or chamois) for rubbing and blending, a blending stick (both large and small) and a good kneaded eraser.
Charcoal is available in various degrees of hardness from Soft to Hard. HB is the harder charcoal, which provides nice tight lines and lighter marks. SB is the other extreme, which is very soft charcoal, which gives you thick, dark lines. Medium of course, is well.. medium.
Again, if you have never used charcoal before, we advise beginning with a starter set that provides a variety of types to choose from. After using each type, you can decide which suits your style best.
Good luck!

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