By Matt Fussell
Charcoal is a traditional drawing medium that has been used by countless artists over the years and will be used for years to come. Charcoal's ability to produce a wide range of value is just one of the characteristics that makes it a favored drawing medium.
Charcoal comes in several different forms including "vine" and "compressed". Charcoal is also manufactured with pigmentation. Typically, this charcoal is compressed and is usually white. Compressed charcoal can be found in stick and pencil form, while vine charcoal is available as sticks only.
Vine charcoal is soft and capable of producing dark blacks as well as light grays. Because vine charcoal is very soft, it is easily erased and very easy to smudge. Compressed charcoal on the other hand is heavily pigmented and is very dark. Because it is heavily pigmented, it very difficult to erase and does not smudge quite as easily.
When white compressed charcoal is used with dark charcoal including vine and compressed, a full range of value can easily be created in a drawing. Creating a full range of value in any drawing or painting should be of upmost importance to any artist. Since the charcoal can be layered much like pastels, the artist is able to "work" the darks and lights to find the suitable value. Transitions of light to dark can also be achieved by gently smudging.
When combining white and black charcoal in a drawing, it is advisable to begin on a surface that has some tonality. Starting with a toned surface will help push the value range. If we start on a white surface for example, we begin on one end of the value scale. We then must work the darker values to create a full range. If we start on a surface that is black, we must do the opposite, and concentrate on working the lighter values. However, if we start with a gray surface, that is already in the middle of the value scale, we can concentrate on pushing the values in either direction.
Here's a look at using white and black charcoal on gray paper. The following video demonstration is excerpts from a 2 hour Live Lesson. To see the full demonstration (available to members) click here.