I recently completed a new drawing entitled “Renewal.” It was completed in charcoal, pastel and white chalk. I wanted this piece to touch on the conflict of transition. The young woman is caught between two seasons. She is bundled in a winter coat and clouds loom behind her. But she is also adorned with a full blooming rose symbolizing a promise of hope and a new beginning.
We don’t see the conflict of her decision but rather the peace she has reached afterwards. She looks ahead, in a moment of resolution and renewal. Next up I will use this drawing as a transfer for a painting!
In the meantime, I thought I would share some of my tools including some thoughts on how I rendered this work.
- My drawing mediums of choice include: General’s Charcoal Pencils and Nitram Academie Fusains Charcoal. For my richest darks I used a black pastel pencil. I heightened the drawing with a combination of white charcoal, chalk and pastel. For my paper I used the smooth side of Mi-Teintes.
- When I first pull my shiny new charcoal pencils out of the packaging, they’re cone shaped. When drawing, this usually means they will stay sharp for the first millisecond they touch the paper. And then I may as well be drawing delicate lines with all the grace and nimbleness of a tree stump. The trick is to whittle away at the pencil using an X-Acto knife. Be careful not to gouge big chunks out of the wood in haste though, as this will usually break the soft charcoal underneath. When a good half to one inch of wood is cleared away use a fine grit sandpaper to sand your pencil to a needle-sharp point. Push the pencil up and down against the sandpaper while slowly rolling the pencil between your thumb and index finger. If I am sanding Nitram charcoal I sand back and forth. The sticks are blockish, so I will sand one side while slowly drawing the pencil towards my body until the charcoal reaches the edge of the sandpaper. Then I roll the charcoal to the next side and repeat. I continue until I’ve reached a nice long fine point. And be prepared this is messy business! To keep the work area tidy, tape the sandpaper to a 2″x4″ and lay it on top of an open trashcan.
- Personally I am very fussy about the details and the paper quality up close. The mahl stick is imperative to keep my dirty hands from resting and smearing the work while also keeping my hand steady while I draw. I made this one myself out of bamboo-it’s fantastically lightweight and I often forget I’m holding it, even when I’m not using it.
- I use a small handheld mirror to check proportions. This can be done in a number of ways. Most commonly I will turn around so my back is facing the drawing and hold up the mirror to view the drawing backwards. If I am facing the drawing I will hold the mirror to my forehead and look up to view the drawing upside down. I am constantly checking the proportions in my work and this helps keep my perspective fresh. I will also use a thick thread with a fishing weight tied to the bottom or a knitting needle to compare proportions to my reference.
- The longer I work, the more pencils and brushes I accrue between my fingers, I just forget to put them down. My kneaded eraser however never leaves my hand. I like to roll the eraser to a point and use it like a brush. I also use it to “dab” at any inconsistencies in the pores of the paper to create a smooth even tone, especially in skin and hair. I also have a few brushes, both soft and bristle, of varying shapes to soften edges and create textures. Sometimes I will even use charcoal powder to “paint” the initial drawing with the brush.
- Coffee and/ or tea (or both. At the same time. Yes, I do that) is always a must. Especially if you have a four month old who gets the munchies every two hours in the night.
On a separate note, I received word that I am a recipient of this year’s Stacey Scholarship fund from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum! The award is given annually to young artists dedicated to educating themselves in the classical tradition and who plan to make art their profession. I am both humbled and grateful and am so excited to see what new work this year will bring!