Painting With Charcoal

Tonight I demonstrated that, at least for me, painting with charcoal is much better than drawing with charcoal. Also, I figured out that I really hate Strathmore charcoal paper.

I want to give a quick Thank You to Jamie Bollenbach who posted a really nice comment about my work on Facebook.

Chris is one of the artists who studies in my figure classes, and he’s been documenting his development, drawing every day. This describes something of a breakthrough moment. The method may be realism, but the ultimate subject is more elusive.Jamie Bollenbach

Jamie Bollenbach

The Drawings


I spent over 2 hours on this drawing, I was struggling with it most of the time and the end result was very disappointing. While drawing I was focusing on line and working hard to get all the shapes accurate. I enjoy some of the areas and how they are treated with cross hatching, but the inaccuracy of the drawing vastly overshadows any superb line work. I feel as though I could just erase everything but the eyes and I would have a better drawing, everything else seems to be a hurried mess of distraction. Maybe I needed to just slow down?

A note on Strathmore 400 Charcoal paper. I would have linked the paper to Artists and Craftsman supply, but they didn’t have it on the website, even though I purchased it from their store. I really dislike this paper and I’m most likely going to give the pad away to someone. For the entire drawing I was fighting the texture. I don’t mind texture, but when its perfectly horizontal machine made lines it looks terrible. I much prefer any laid paper like Arches watercolor, or Stonehenge, or Fabriano I would even prefer the very flat Strathmore Artagain over this.

Speaking of substrate texture, I was talking with an artist that has a studio at Gage Academy while looking at his wall of paintings in his studio. And he made a comment on how he loved the linen canvas he was currently working on and despised the cheap machine made canvas panels. He showed me a painting on his wall next to the other and pointed out the uniformity of the texture of the canvas and how it really deadened the painting and I agreed. The machine made texture really flattened the painting, it was like viewing the work from beneath speckled glass.

My purpose for tonights drawings was to explore drawing with a focus on form, specifically I wanted to see how simplistic I could make the drawing yet still capture a likeness. Unfortunately I spent too much time on the line drawing when its only purpose was to establish a base for likeness. I had stopped after the first drawing but after reading comments on my work from Facebook I was inspired to block out some simple shapes of my face.


This is less than 10 minutes into the drawing. I really tried to hit the basic shadow shapes as accurately as I could, and I’m astounded that with just so few marks I could capture this much of my portrait likeness so quickly.


Here I just pulled out a bristle brush and focused on edges for a few minutes.


This is the drawing after 30 minutes of moving breaking down shadow shapes into smaller areas, erasing for lighter values and adding in darker areas.

I can’t think of any better way to establish a subject as quickly and easy. I call this stage the “punched in the face” stage, because most of the shapes are just a bit off and need to be adjusted to increase accuracy. I will also begin breaking down each shadow shape into smaller and smaller shapes to increase detail.

The more I do these drawings with a focus on form and simple shapes, the more I have come to realize that I have to move slowly and very carefully place these shapes accurately, there is no room for being sloppy here.

Oh, and I did this drawing on cheap newsprint, which I enjoyed much better than the line Strathmore paper.

Session Details