Stepby Step Charcoal Study

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Find your "beloved" again-a subject you are attracted to and willing to spend time with. Adjust its position and lighting, if necessary. Turn off other lights and close curtains/blinds to create more dramatic lighting. Observe the objects in your setup and squint to block out detail. You want to see two basic, interlocked dark- and light-value shapes on each object. Where dark meets light, the transition is soft, blended. It bears repeating: It's crucial to squint to see those shadows more clearly.

"As the only man in class, I was surprised that several classmates were stylistically far more bold and assertive than I, using much sharper value contrasts, for example. (So much for gender stereotypes!)''

-student george stevens

Example Sketches Using Charcoal

STEP 1: CREATING A GROUND. A ground is an overall background gray. It will supply you with a middle value against which you can better judge the other grays. Cover your paper with the same value as your table surface, applying charcoal in vertical and horizontal strokes, or in a flowing manner, if you prefer. (You don't need to use the entire page; a border of white paper may remain.) Keep strokes close enough together to avoid a striped effect. Rub them down with a paper towel to get a soft, overall gray with a suedelike finish.

Charcoal Drawing Gray Paper

STEP 2: DRAWING THE SUBJECT. With the point of your charcoal, make a slow, careful contour drawing of your subject. Include any edge, outside or inside (such as the grooves of a pumpkin) that can be turned into a contour line. Put specific character into your drawing by recording what you see, not a generalization. What you think is round may actually be somewhat bumpy, often angular. Slow down to get that in there. Note that stems have two sides, like miniature tubes. If there's some part that's particularly hard to draw, practice it with pen or pencil on scrap paper. If you don't like your contour drawing, wipe it out, lay in more ground, then smooth it over with a paper towel. Are you sure you want this subject? You can change your mind!

Subjects Draw

STEP 3: DETERMINING RELATIVE VALUE. To determine the basic value relationship between ground and subject, squint until your eyes are almost closed. Relative to the surface it sits on, is your subject darker, lighter, the same value, or a mix of both? See "Strategies for Creating Shadows and Dimension" (page 98) for tips on how to assess and adjust those relationships, which are really important if you want to create the illusion of dimension on your paper. This pear was both the same as, and darker than, the ground. First, I fingerpainted the inside of the pear to make its texture different from the ground. Then I rubbed in those values around the pear that I noticed made its contour stand out.

Charcoal Rub Out Landscape

STEP 4: APPLYING SHADOW VALUES. Squint to see the object's shadow shape. Fill that in, leaving the transition edge soft. Fill in the cast shadow and erase to create light values within the shadow on the object. Keep the latter darker than values in the light area. Create textures and highlights—if they're present—by lifting out charcoal dust with an eraser where needed. Blend and soften with Q-Tips or fingers. Continue to record value shapes within larger value areas. Use your charcoal and eraser technique to reach the degree of finish you like.

Value Scale CharcoalValue Study Drawing Charcoal

"With charcoal, jou can do a contour drawing, fill it in, then easily change lines jou don't want. By putting in the ground, thenjou can go up and down the value scale from there."

-student pamela m.



Establish the overall value of an object first, then always make shadows darker than the object. Shadow values are relative to the objects they lie on. For example, the shadow on a lemon is lighter than the shadow on an eggplant.

The texture of an object must be differentiated from the ground; otherwise, the object will look flat and transparent. Here are four different ways to adjust the value relationship between ground and subject to create the illusion of dimension on your paper:

IF YOUR SUBJECT IS LIGHTER ON ONE SIDE, DARKER ON THE OTHER: Apply a basic overall value, then work to differentiate values on either side.

IF YOUR SUBJECT IS DARKER THAN THE GROUND: Fill in its overall middle value until it's darker than the surface it sits on.

IF YOUR SUBJECT IS LIGHTER THAN THE GROUND: Rub it with your finger or an eraser to remove some charcoal until the subject is lighter than the surface.

IF YOUR SUBJECT AND GROUND ARE THE SAME VALUE: Change the texture inside your subject by rubbing charcoal around until its texture differs from the surface it's on.

Apple Contour DrawingValue Study Drawing CharcoalSusan DiloretoSusan Diloreto

The addition of skillfully placed highlights and charcoal values to careful contour drawings creates the illusion of dimension in these studies. student drawings by, from top clockwise, diane m. h. schultz (pear), kathleen leitao (squash), susan diloreto (squash), and anne ballantyne (lemon, apple)

When you apply values, move the side of your charcoal along with the shape of the object, as illustrated so well in this example. The movement is like a cross-country skier flowing over a landscape of hills and valleys, always following their changing contours, drawing by student mary jo fusaro m ipt Mr

Cross Conture Drawings Pears

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