Charcoal is the oldest medium of the three materials in this section. It is made from wood that has been slowly charred in a controlled firing. The material takes on the natural form of the wood that can range from a twig to something as large as a branch. The largest piece of charcoal I have seen is up to 2 inches thick and this is called scene painters charcoal.
Charcoal is a material that has been around since the dawn of man. As man discovered fire then he discovered charcoal, inadvertently at first then by purposeful production. The inadvertent discovery of charcoal enabled man to make his first drawings, recording his observations and thoughts of life in his surroundings. The mark that charcoal made would soon develop into a sophisticated visual language that would be an expression of the day-to-day lives of these early peoples as seen today on cave walls.
Since these early discoveries, man has developed the medium into other forms such as conte crayon, wax crayon, and a form of compressed charcoal. We have developed stabilisers to fix the drawings and make them permanent. We have also developed the use of erasers that remove or enhance the potential of the drawing.
Charcoal has qualities that are obviously different to other materials. Compared to graphite or pencil charcoal is a soft smudgy material that delicately survives on the surface of the paper until fixed and made permanent. The material produces a good strong line, tone, and textured surfaces in a similar way to graphite but with a character that is very different. Charcoal has what I can only describe as an ethereal, atmospheric quality to it. It feels more direct as a material when one is using it. It feels softer and gentler in its response, whereas graphite has a more immediate harshness to it.
Another material made from charcoal is compressed charcoal. This is a material that first came into existence in the first half of the last century, and behaves more like a pastel in that it holds the surface of the paper more substantially than charcoal, and has a propensity to be slightly denser than charcoal. Compressed charcoal is made by crushing charcoal into a fine powder then mixing it by rolling it with a fine binder to make a compressed charcoal stick. The stick has to be made to such a consistency so that it can be handled without crumbling or breaking, yet at the same time soft enough to make a mark when put to paper. Varying degrees of hardness and softness can be obtained for compressed charcoal as with pencils. The product is manufactured and can be brought from any art suppliers. Finally, one can obtain charcoal in a pencil form. This enables the charcoal to be sharpened and allows it to be used more like a pencil. However, you do lose the intrinsic quality that charcoal has when used in this form.
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