Natures Best Models

CHARCOAL SAMPLER. The charcoal applications shown here are described in the exercises on these two pages. Refer to these examples in building your own "Charcoal Sampler."

Good starters for level-one subjects in this chapter are solid-colored fruit, particularly those with uniformly light skins, such as Bosc pears or Golden Delicious apples. Scarred fruit is fine. It can give character to your subject—like a dueling scar!

Level-two subjects are more challenging: eggplant, lemons, colored peppers, Hubbard and acorn squashes, pumpkin, Red Delicious apples, multicolored apples, peaches, and pears. Treat yourself to a selection (you can always eat what you don't draw). Some artists can't resist a beautiful green cabbage with large, billowing leaves. As daunting as they are, cabbages do tempt beginners, who often get wonderful results. But as

a general rule, avoid very complex subjects like pineapple (too much detail) and oranges (the pitted skin is the only distinguishing feature, which is difficult to draw).

As you unpack your fruit and veggies at home, put them in a value scale for practice. Then you'll be set to start your charcoal sampler.

"I liked working in pencil, but I didn't like it as much as drawing in charcoal. I can 'tget the drama out of my pencil that I can out of the charcoal. "

-studentjamie keever exercise: charcoal sampler

Let's get a feel for vine charcoal and your kneaded eraser, finger blending, and/or Q:Tip blending-your choice. Use your newsprint pad for this one, and spread your work over as many pages as you'd like. When you've completed these exercises, take a fifteen-minute break and study them at a distance so you can appreciate the texture and dimensional quality inherent to the charcoal medium.

1 Snap off a I-V2" piece of charcoal. Holding it between your thumb and first two fingers and rub its side on paper until you get a smooth path of gray.

2 Play with the charcoal, looping, scribbling, and making any marks that occur to you. Smooth areas with your finger; experiment with erasers.

3 Make a long, serpentine, ribbon-candy mark by alternately pressing down and letting up pressure as you move the charcoal down the page, pulling from side to side.

4 Create two value scales. For the first, press down and rub back and forth to make a very dark square. Continue to rub while pulling away from the square, letting pressure decrease, leaving a gradually lighter trail. For the second value scale, fill in five squares of different values. Smooth each with your finger and reapply charcoal to adjust values.

5 Push down hard to see just how dark you can make your charcoal. If pressure gives you only reluctant, pale marks, you may have a faulty stick; sometimes there's a bad stick in the pack of soft vine charcoal, so try another piece to get deep, blackish grays.

6 Make two marks very close to each other. Use your finger to blend one area into the other.

7 To create a crisp edge, move your grip to one end of your charcoal, then press down while pulling it over the paper toward you. Move your grip to the middle of the stick and do the same, with no pressure on either end, to create a softer edge.


Think of your kneaded eraser as a brush full of white paint. You can create numerous effects by erasing through a layer of charcoal to reveal white paper, in any shape you desire. You'll be able to blend and soften shapes with it, create small highlights, trim the edge of an object by erasing around it, and intensify light areas.

Use your kneaded eraser until it gets too much charcoal buildup on part of it. Then, simply fold that darkened area back into the eraser and knead a bit to uncover a clean surface. Although the eraser on an ordinary writing pencil is also a useful tool when working with charcoal—especially for getting into tiny, hard-to-reach areas— it's not the renewable resource the kneaded eraser is. But both kinds of erasers are effective for feathering edges and defining crisp ones.

8 Make three 2" squares of a dark, middle-gray value. Smooth the surfaces.

9 Pinch up a small nub of clean kneaded eraser, without pulling it from the whole eraser. Use this eraser tool to create a small, light area in the midst of the first dark-gray square you prepared earlier. Push down on the eraser and wiggle, rather than wipe, to make the desired shape. Repeat if you want a lighter mark. This is a great technique for bright, crisp highlights.

10 Use your eraser tool to soften an edge of your small, light area. Use delicate strokes to break down the crisp edge. Break down one side of your square this way as well.

11 Make your second square a bit smaller by erasing a column of charcoal from three sides. Maintain a firm pressure while you drag the eraser in the appropriate direction. You might have to scrub a little to get the surface thoroughly erased. You can create a curvy edge this way as well. Try it on the fourth side.

12 Bear down firmly and drag the eraser diagonally to make a triangle out of the third square.

13 With the point of your charcoal, draw contour lines, some dark, some light. Soften them with your eraser tool. Use this technique when an outline is too prominent.

14 Make a gray value square. Wipe it with the flat side of your eraser to subdue texture.

15 Outline an irregular shape, then fill it in with some subtle, multidirectional, flowing strokes that echo the shape. Smooth an area.

16 Repeat #13. Tame those active strokes with horizontal grounding strokes parallel to the bottom of your page, to reinforce level ground. This is a a good way to tame overactive cast shadows.

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Learn to sketch by working through these quick, simple lessons. This Learn to Sketch course will help you learn to draw what you see and develop your skills.

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