What is Charcoal?

This month’s box dives head first into the classic medium of charcoal. Charcoal, as an artistic medium, is not like the ordinary residue that is left over from burning fire-wood or coal. In some ways it is, but this versatile dry-art medium is formed from burning only particular types of dried-woods, some of which include linden, willow and grape vine. These organic materials undergo a very specific slow-burning process to turn it into highly-dense carbon sticks, which is what creates the wonderful drawing instrument that we know and love.

There are numerous types of charcoal supplies that all have different effects and uses in the creation of art, but perhaps the most commonly used are charcoal sticks, compressed charcoal and the charcoal pencil. Charcoal sticks are probably the most recognisable form of a carbon-based art supply and these are the result of slow-burning grape vine or specific wood-type twigs. Like-wise, compressed charcoal is formed by burning specific wood-types, but it is then finely-ground and moulded into blocks using a gum or a wax binder. And the charcoal pencil is a more modern take on the medium, with a thin strip of dense carbon that is sheathed in a jacket of wood. These were designed to have the similar, easy usability of a graphite pencil with all of the desired artistic properties of charcoal. 

Charcoal is one of the world’s oldest art medias and can be seen in so many iconic creations. It has been used by many recognisable artists for sketching, preliminary studies and for well-renowned artworks. So, to help you get into the mind set of this classic medium we thought we could provide a few inspirational charcoal pieces from some famous artists throughout history.

As featured in the May 2020 ScrawlrBox

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