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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:56

Drawing with charcoal: historical techniques of 19th century France

Video transcript

dark velvety grainy soft these are some of the intrinsic qualities of charcoal that artists are drawn to charcoal comes from charred pieces of wood capable of producing a range of tones that are easily reworked but because charcoal particles are large they don't readily adhere to a surface and so finished works of art could not be made with the medium until the 18th and 19th centuries when artists had the means to bind or fix it to paper producing a golden glow Timothy Mayhew demonstrates the techniques used by French artists who fell in love with charcoal among them Maxime LaLanne whose castle overlooking a river exemplifies their methods working outdoors the artist brings an easel and a portable frame covered with stretched paper which resembles a painter's canvas the paper itself is textured ideal for holding charcoal the artists also brings a variety of drawing tools and materials using the side of a stick of charcoal he puts down large areas of tone the foreground middle-ground and sky he blends these broad strokes with a cloth or a feather to soften them another way to apply the medium smoothly is with a brush dipped into a powdery form of charcoal to make marks nineteenth-century artists typically used a pencil like holder for charcoal which they handled like a small paintbrush the key is to apply everything lightly so that the luminous white of the paper shows through and marks are easy to erase drawing with charcoal also involves selectively removing it to create highlights various tools can be used including a brush artists of the past often used kneaded bread just like an eraser tightly rolled paper or leather with a tapered end called a stump also works well stomps or a finger can be used for blending a charcoal drawing emerges over time through layers of soft tones and selectively placed darker ones 19th century artists typically protected their drawings by brushing a resin-based fixative solution across the back of the paper in 1850s France artists produced soft ethereal looking landscapes with charcoal only a few decades later darker toned drawings were more in vogue typically representing somber subjects or night scenes artists began working not just with charcoal but with similar powdery materials black chalk Conte crayon pastel or they combined them experimentation emphasized the medium itself as integral to a work of art you