18 x 24 charcoal paper pad
compressed charcoal, vine charcoal
Charcoal Pencils : ~ 2b, 5b, 6b, HB 2h 5h 6h
Gummy Kneaded Eraser
Optional: Charcoal powder
In this article, we'll learn a new technique for doing large charcoal pieces quickly and easily. A lot of artists have used this method for years to quickly pull together the basis for the start of the piece. The first thing we need to do is figure out what we want to draw. We need a subject solid in our head before we do anything, so i suggest doing some preliminary sketches to flesh out ideas. Abe is going to be doing a figure study.
You could use a stock photo to do this, and reference it but i usually start off by drawing it out in as many different ways as it takes until i'm comfortable you know your subject inside and out.
Setting up - - This is a technique used on white papers.
White is a strong value, as is black. By setting ourselves up with a solid mid tone, we get rid of the harsh white tone and give us a good even midtone to start with. By starting with a midtone, its easier to push to dark or pull to light, and all the values in between. You'll want to have white reserved for highlights.
First - Abe starts out by drawing a value scale. The reason he does this is because you need to be aware of how dark and how light your mediums can go and be comfortable with them. By starting off with a value scale, hes getting a feel for where he can go with the charcoal.
Next - Abe gets charcoal powder and starts applying that even midtone across the entire page. This works equally as well if you take some small compressed charcoal pieces and crush them up in a paper tower. Apply the same way.
The idea here is to get an even tone, with no streaks and no obvious lines in it. We want a solid, simple midtone. Abe tries to stay a good distance from white and black, keeping his tone in the middle of that value scale.
As you put on more charcoal, it should start to look flat, with less detail as you bury the charcoal. A good way to look at it is like when it snows. Once enough snow piles up on an object, all the detail fades away and washes out. Same premise here, wash out the lines and streaks under the charcoal.
Treat it like paper at this point. You have a solid grey value. This is a great exercise for you if you're a low confidence artist. Often times some aspiring artists get a little too cautious and dont take those big risks. By already starting with a messy paper filled with the charcoal midtone, you'll be a lot less cautious and not worry so much about ruining the paper or piece. Take risks, experiment, and have fun.
Next, Abe is blocking out the form using vine charcoal. Abe is using very loose strokes with the vine, because it is easy to remove. Abe uses the vine charcoal specifically to avoid hard lines and permanent structure. Here, he doesnt want anything he places down to be permenant, it is simply to help him figure out where the figure will be, and how each part of her relates to the other. You want to block out the gesture of the pose or image you're drawing, and place the composition down, but thats it. Use this opportunity to experiment. Keep proportion in mind. Notice how simple the drawing is at this point. By keeping it simple, and not investing too much time or effort into such a basic step, it gives Abe the opportunity to experiment and play around until he has it right.
Make sure you measure the subject. If you're a beginner at drawing, you want to be aware of the placement on the page. If you're experienced, you should know this, but move around a lot and think about how everything interacts with each other and where its going to be placed. A good artist can work around the page, never stopping for too long in one spot. It makes it easier sometimes to treat the face or person you're drawing as a series of objects or shapes. Never get stuck in one area for too long. The reason behind this is because often you'll hold up in one spot for a while, end up rendering it and spending a lot of time focusing on just that specific spot, and then realize how out of proportion it is with the rest of your piece. You want to avoid that. By jumping around and constantly moving, you avoid looking at any one spot by itself, and see the image as it is: a whole group of objects.
Now that the proportions are blocked in, we're adding landmarks. If you're experienced in drawing, you should know what landmarks are. However, for beginners out there, landmarks are parts of the body that help with proportion and placement. They're the elbows, joints, naval, crotch, nipples, knees, ect. If you dont have a good grasp on what landmarks are, you should get a few anatomy books for artists from your library, or check back to this site in the future for our upcoming landmarks article.
Never ever forget to step back from your piece periodically and look at it in its entirety. You never want to focus on just one spot or area and put a lot of time and effort into it while neglecting the rest of the piece. Again, move all over the figure, and never stay in one place. Abe is doing this drawing standing the entire time, working at arms length so he can see the entire piece as he works. He constantly moves around and works on the piece as a whole. Here, Abe does not want to treat the page like a jigsaw puzzle. He doesn't focus on making individual puzzle pieces look great, because they may not fit when he puts it all together. Move around, from head to butt to knee, always keep moving.
Blocking out the core shadows, Abe is blocking out the figure from lights and darks. He uses the vine charcoal to block in the general shadows, knowing that they can easily be tweaked later on. Occassionally, you can use a hard charcoal pencil to define the shape a bit more. Add more definition as you go, and always remember to keep moving. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to stop moving, and i cant stress that enough.
When you are blocking in the shadows and seperating the lights and the darks, try to think about lighting and where the light will and wont hit. Think about how the light acts. Lighting is something that takes a lot of practice and time to really grasp and understand, so the sooner you start thinking about it as you draw the easier it'll get. Always think about light, and how it acts.
Keep defining the shadows, keep reworking the areas until you get it right.
The midtones are already here. You added these at the beginning when you started with the charcoal powder. At this point Abe is adding in background tone to help place the figure in the environment. Adding tone to the floor and the wall grounds the figure in the plane. Keep the horizon line in mind, a little bit of texture goes a long way. By adding these shadows, we're anchoring where the figure is.
Next, Abe is rendering. Evening out tones and pushing areas back to something solid. Abe is using vine charcoal so that everything placed down can be moved around. Imagine you're drawing with sand. You can always push the sand around any way you want, because it doesn't become glued to the page. Same with the vine charcoal, keep pushing it around.
Starting to use compressed charcoal. Abe is comfortable with values and moving on to darker tones. He has enough definition in his lights vs darks so rendering to push more dark. Up until this point there are only two real values, using the compressed charcoal we create the third value. Abe never went from black to white, he always went back to the midtone. He used vine charcoal because it could be pushed back, now hes using compressed to bring that more permenant third value. Throughout the piece, he has only used a shammy to take off vine.
As you define shadows, try to think about hard and soft edges and how the light reacts where there's more fat and less bone at the surface of the skin (torso, ect.) and where the bones closer to the surface (elbow, ect.)
To tone down darks, use the shammy but realize it will never be back to that original midtone with compressed charcoal.
The only time Abe has used an eraser on this piece has been for the highlights. A lot of these highlights revolve around where the skin pinches on landmarks. The piece is nowhere near finished, but it should give you enough of an idea as to a few key componants that will make your drawings a lot better, a lot faster.
From this article there are a few key points you should follow:
- Always move around the page. Never stop and focus on one area. If you treat your piece like a jigsaw puzzle, you might wind up with a lot of awesome puzzle pieces that dont exactly fit together right. By moving all over your page, you are forced to view the subject as a whole.
- Think as you draw! Think about proportion and how each part of an object interacts and measures up with the whole.
- Start simple, and push from basic to complex. Dont start out trying to draw every single fold of a cloth while simultaneously rendering it and juggling 3 flaming chainsaws. Start out by drawing the shape, putting down the major shadows, and push toward complexity as you go along. It will make your life a lot easier and it'll be a lot less frustrating if you can take your subject, break it down into something simple, and push back to that complexity later.
- Be knowledgable. If you dont understand landmarks, go to the library and get a few anatomy books. We'll also have a landmark article coming in the near future to help explain that. But the more you know about something, the easier it is to draw it. If you ever get a chance, take a figure drawing class. Humans have so many great and complex shapes within us, you really can learn a lot from just drawing the human figure a couple hours a week.
- Draw often, and by often i mean all the damn time. Carry a sketchbook around with you, and a pencil. Whenever you feel the urge, draw. When you dont feel the urge, force yourself. A lot of drawing really is practice. Eventually all those things you need to think about now and contemplate will become muscle memory. The more you draw, the faster you'll progress, and the better you'll get.
Thats It folks! If you have any questions regarding the artist in the above pictures, or the article itself send me a private message on the site here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ibrahim Al-Gwaiz is currently a student at the University of San Francisco. If you want to know more about him, or to view more of his work, check him out at http://singlemanmarch.blogspot.com He is a contributor to Visual Design Core.
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