The Charcoal, the Art Gum, the Art.
The Charcoal, the Art Gum, the Art.

It had been awhile since I touched the 18"X24" sketchpad and charcoal, so I opened up a new package of prisma-color charcoal and doodled an image that had been in my mind. Just a simple figure with her hands in her pockets. I actually first considered making this a landscape-oriented picture (ie, a figure drawing in a wide frame.) Fortunately, I didn’t have a background in mind, and really didn’t feel like running blindly into an experiment (much less, rendering a bunch of test/warm-up doodles). So, another portrait-oriented figure drawing that more or less fills the frame. Good thing too. I’m familiar with this format, so I have more room to manuever if things go awry.

The first understructure lines were for her torso; then I worked my way down. Then her head, then her arms. The second wave of lines—detail lines—went basically head to toe (er, legs since her toes aren’t visible.)

When I started to shade, the (subtle) differences between the new charcoal and charcoal used for my previous renders became apparent—just little details in the tone and texture it left on the page (not to mention, how it erased differently). But, all in all, I really liked the look the prismacolor charcoal laid down ...

... and then I decided to blend it. In the back of my mind, I had a nagging feeling about deliberately smudging those crisp and beautiful charcoal strokes. Something in the back of my mind said, “do a subtle experiment on a part of the drawing no one is going to notice?” (apparently, a self-destructive part of my mind had tied up and gagged the more sane voice saying, “hey, experiment on another sheet of paper with something you don’t care about.” Took a paper towel to the charcoal strokes, and ... yuck ... it left a weird brownish undertown (not really visible in the small picture.) Now I had a drawing I liked with a weird brownish smudge that draws attention to itself. *sigh* Only one thing to do now: smudge the whole damn thing.

“This is going to suck,” I said, getting up to fetch more paper towels, and said farewell to the textures and strokes that looked so cool a few seconds ago (with a nice wide range of values.) Now I had a pretty uniform shading, which was neat in its own right, but nowhere near as interesting visually. Oh, and the weird brownish quality of the smudged charcoal no longer looked ugly when the whole thing was done that way ... well, almost the whole thing. I left the hair alone entirely.

Anyway, the now uniform/visually bland shading turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, as it gave me reason to use the art gum as a creation tool to actively (re)draw the highlights via erasing. Then, from there, redrawing the dark shadows and lines with the charcoal. Now, I had a set of layers to the shading that none of my other charcoal pieces here at Dark Side of the Soul have.

For the background, I wanted something simple but suggestive. I’ve been wanting to work on the idea of a few shapes which imply a lot more. The most immediate example? A pattern of dark rectangles which conveys bricks. As chance would have it, when I got to the background, I happened to pick up the wrong stick of chacoal, so that is the same Willow charcoal used for Nightshade and Candlelight. When I had about finished, and was looking over the whole thing for small touchups, I was fiddling with the charcoal in my hand and realized, “this is really worn down for a first time use ... wait a minute ...”

As chance would have it, I was looking for a way to segregate the foreground and background anyway. Maybe my subconsious mind knows what it’s doing better than my conscious mind.