Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to create a charcoal portrait of a child

The materials I will be using are thin sticks of willow charcoal, charcoal pencils, black conte crayon, a putty rubber, cotton buds, torchons and a smooth cloth . I am working on pre-soaked and stretched Sanders watercolour paper (140 gms.) As watercolour papers go this is fairly smooth, but it has enough tooth to hold the charcoal powder.

Using the willow charcoal, I quickly rough in the basic shape of the head and position of the various features. Nothing is as yet fixed in stone. Willow charcoal can easily be dusted off and amendments made.

As I am fairly happy with the beginnings of a likeness, I start to strengthen the details and tones of eyes and mouth. This is done with a charcoal pencil ( medium). I also work on building up the shadows. I scrub the willow charcoal over the area and then soften with fingers, torchons or cloth.

I now pay attention to the background , blocking it in with compressed charcoal and charcoal
pencils (dark) The hair is begun.

From here it is a matter of simply refining the detail. To get the precision I want, in the eyes for instance, I use a sharpened conte crayon. But you have to be certain it is in the right place, for conte is a very difficult material to erase! I build layer upon layer to get the depth of shadow I want. On top of the initial willow charcoal, I use the charcoal pencils , stroking them in very gently and then smoothly blending with torchons or cotton buds. A mahl stick is another useful implement as I have often absentmindedly lent my hand upon a drawing and erased or smudged large areas. I also on occasions mask off the areas of the drawing I am not working on.

The finished drawing.

Charcoal is a particularly lovely medium for drawing children. It allows for both delicacy and detail.

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