Dusted and Done

…and with a few waves of the hand the offending sketch had gone.  Magic!

Charcoal is a wonderful medium for learning to draw: it’s relatively inexpensive; you don’t have to start with a blank white page; you can draw with both charcoal and erasers; and willow charcoal can be easily wiped away.  You and your work area will get dusty, but that’s half the fun.  I have no idea why it’s taken me this long to appreciate it.

If you’re beyond outlines and ready to tackle light and shadow I can recommend Clara Lieu’s YouTube series on drawing a charcoal portrait to get you started, no matter your subject; read my review here.

If my internet connection hadn’t failed on both the evening I finished and the following morning, I would have left my own charcoal still-life alone.  The unusual disruption gave me pause to crit (and continue) my drawing for the Art Prof’s October Art Dare: Superstition, by adding my hand.


I love the tradition of superstitions, and “touch wood” is one my family often uses to repel fate or bad luck.  There are a couple of clues to this hidden in my composition; can you spot them?  Answers on a postcard…

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Daring Myself

Touch Wood 1

Four things I’ve learned this week:

  • Tweaking your still life is a form of procrastination, or a sign that something isn’t quite right.
  • Willow charcoal is very forgiving; you can dust away an hour’s worth of drawing as if it never happened.
  • When lightbulbs fail to make the right impression, natural light can be your (and your still-life’s) saviour.
  • Charcoal pencils and eraser pencils are great neighbours, and fantastic for capturing counterchange*.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started (and erased) my still-life drawing for the Art Prof October Art Dare: Superstition.  With the arrangement I’d set-up, I decided charcoal was probably the worst medium I could have chosen, and was so fed up with it I started to dismantle simplify it yesterday.  But I’d already wasted spent enough time tweaking my still life and wasn’t prepared to give in.

With a simpler set-up, and the afternoon daylight settling over my still-life (and no specs to blur things a little), today I made progress that’s worth celebrating!

*counterchange  (noun),  patterning in which a dark motif on a light ground alternates with the same motif light on a dark ground

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‘Art Prof’ YouTube Review

Have you ever known an art teacher to demonstrate a drawing in full before setting you the same assignment? Me neither.  Until now.

When Art Prof Clara Lieu launched the September 2016 Art Dare (a charcoal self-portrait) the team also released 20 (yes, 20!) short video ‘highlights’ of Clara setting up and drawing a charcoal portrait, from start to finish. Filmed on three iPhones, without a professional cameraman or script, Clara teaches you the fundamentals so you can successfully complete your own charcoal drawing.  In her own words: “I ad-libbed the entire demo the way that I teach my classes.”

And for me, it is Clara’s warmth and relaxed approach to teaching drawing that helped me step straight into my discomfort zone and spend several hours looking in a mirror while trying to capture my apprehensiveness for a long drawing and ultimately, for becoming an artist.


Each video is under six minutes in length (some are barely over a minute), and capture three different views: the model Marianna, Clara talking to camera, and the drawing itself. They cover the following stages of Clara’s drawing:

  1. Intro
  2. Lighting
  3. Composition
  4. Thumbnails: Line
  5. Thumbnails: Tone
  6. Toning the paper
  7. Sketch to drawing
  8. Pressure
  9. Cross-hatching intro
  10. Charcoal pencil
  11. Cross-hatching lines
  12. Eraser stick
  13. Jump around
  14. Background
  15. Stepping back
  16. Details
  17. Refinements
  18. Style
  19. Contrast
  20. Finishing

I watched the first eight videos before getting stuck in, and chose to watch on only when I reached a point where I was stuck. I kept reminding myself that there was a virtual teacher for me every step of the way, so I didn’t feel as nervous as I normally would.

I loved the three-camera set-up as this helped me understand the full drawing process, and I felt I could complete a beautifully finished piece rather than my default incomplete sketches. Other pluses include the occasional pop-ups which complemented the narrative perfectly, and the conciseness of each video, so you can dip into the drawing process wherever you need some additional guidance.

My only negative comment is that the videos are not individually titled (yet), so I had to watch the beginning of each one to write my own content list (see above).

This month’s Art Prof Art Dare is Your Future Self: a drawing on black paper, and faces are not allowed!  The team have released a further eight YouTube videos to demonstrate how to approach a conceptual piece such as this, beginning with brainstorming ideas.  I haven’t watched them yet, but judging by the quality of their charcoal drawing videos, these will be invaluable in guiding me forward, and I can’t wait to get started!

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Looking Back at Life

When was the last time you leafed through your old drawings, or even not-so-old ones, and reflected on how far you’ve travelled on your creative journey?

Having recently entered the Art Prof’s September Art Dare with my charcoal self-portrait, I thought I’d compare it with the previous A1 graphite pencil self-portrait I’d drawn around 14 years’ ago. But instead I found this charcoal and chalk life-drawing, which I completed a couple of years’ earlier while attending an evening class at my local art college.

Charcoal Sketch
Charcoal and chalk on sugar paper, 1999

I never used to enjoy drawing hands or faces, and would often compose my life-drawings so there was no room for either on my paper. Or, I would leave them until there were just a couple of minutes left, and would draw as little as I could get away with.

With the Art Prof’s charcoal challenge I’ve clearly made a breakthrough in my handling of charcoal and my interpretation of me, not just in capturing a face.

Have you made any breakthroughs in your own art?  Please share in a comment.

WordPress prompt: Breakthrough

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Art Prof Art Dare

Here’s my self-portrait for the Art Prof September Art Dare charcoal challenge.  It was just what I needed to nudge me out of my greyness-of-graphite rut.  I used two charcoal pencils that belonged to my Grandpa in this self-portrait; he was a brilliant artist, and it is heart-warming to be able to use something of his in my own work.  I loved this challenge so much I’m ready to draw another self-portrait!

I’ll review the Art Prof Youtube videos which accompanied this challenge on another occasion, but for now I’ll leave you with this…

Charcoal Self Portrait 2016
Self-Portrait; Charcoal on Watercolour Paper, for Art Prof Art Dare, September 2016

WordPress Discover Challenge: Portraits

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