I have a love/hate relationship with charcoal. Vine charcoal is great for gestural studies, especially on a rough substrate, but it's incredily fugitive. All you have to do is breathe on it and it goes away. Compressed charcoal in stick form gives you some of the deepest, velvety blacks, but it too smudges easily, and usually manages to creep under your fingernails where it remains for a day or so. Charcoal pencils, on the other hand, offer by far some of the best control and cleanliness, but the charcoal tends to break easily, leaving behind a craggy wound that forces you to either sharpen or whittle way another inch of material. But when they cooperate, they offer an excellent range of marks.
Fortunately, I had a couple of sheets of Canson Mi Tientes shipped up to Amherst with some of my drawing and painting supplies. I also had plenty of charcoal pencils (Genereal's® 6B, 4B, 2B). My first "value study" (translation: stalling before diving into the painting) was done on newsprint, and pretty saturated with blacks. Dan Dos Santos suggested that I do a much larger rendering in order to gauge what kinds of strokes and marks I might want to use for the final painting. That was the first time anyone related the strokes in the preliminary drawing to the strokes in the final painting, but it made perfect sense.
I love to render intricate details in dry media, especially graphite. Most of my larger acrylic paintings have carefuly rendered graphite underdrawings drawn directly on the gesso. I tend to avoid charcoal becase it's so easy to smudge. But because contrast was such an important part of my concept, I decided to use charcoal in order to get the darkest possible blacks in the shadows.
I ended up making her head too large for her body, but I was happy to erase it and redraw it. Charcoal is very easy to erase and reapply. What surprised me about the final drawing was how it really didn't get as dark in certain areas as I imagined it would. I usually render with a light touch and gradually build up tone with a very sharp tip. Even witha few accents of white charcoal, the range of values I was shooting for just weren't happening. (The values in the first, smaller quick sketch are closer to what I had in mind) Maybe I could make them happen in the final painting through translucent layers of paint. I also noticed how the newly articulated tusks might make or break the final piece. This tends to happen when I get a little careless as I work. Sometimes, my mind wanders a bit, and I start introducing new details as an exeperiment. It could be that I still was not satisfied with the simple tusk concept and wanted to see how far I could push the concept of fully articulated bones without muscles and tendons. So, this is were I was with just a couple of days remaining for the mounting and painting phases.
Next: Painting (Again)