H charcoal squares and shapes (17 sketches, a journey)

I have been using a pen and Indian ink, drawing texture from inside shapes as in the next two pictures. However, I want to simplify my field sketches.

I have approached these next drawings differently. I start by mapping the image mentally onto a square and then apply simple blocky shapes to build the sketch.

The instrument I chanced upon is an old charcoal pencil. It is an unsubtle H grade, unyielding when mark making. Even sharpened it quickly reverts to a chisel.  The squared-off edge imposes jerky movements and irregular polygonal shapes.

Even so, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to try for shading tones and building textures, as in the evening fields below (I was out looking for owls and observing Jupiter and Saturn rise). But the tool is too crude for this purpose.

Below are two attempts at the same woodland, looking through the leaf-clad trunks rising from dense fern undergrowth.  Light filters through from the sky and there is dense shade in a hollow made by an A of two leaning trees and a bush.  The hard charcoal cannot offer the contrasts of shading I wanted.

Further along the same woodland (I was cycling the Tarka trail between Great Torrington and Bideford in Devon) I tried again.  This time I licked the drawing point (and a little grossed out, dipped it in water) to deepen the tones.

In the next pair of drawings, now from a cliff top, I started with a charcoal sketch overdrawn with a soft graphite stick.  I then redrew this, reverting to heavy lines and crude shapes, splodging it with watercolour from a fat squirrel hair brush.  Interestingly the H grade charcoal seems pretty water-fast.

In another clifftop view, the charcoal and watercolour is overlaid with a black marker for depth of tone and conte crayon for texture.

At the estuary at Bideford, a boat drawn up onto the bank gave the foreground, with the Torridge bridge behind.  On a baking afternoon, the sun behind me, there were few variations in tone. I found myself simply colouring in my shapes, making this a naive (= childish?) painting.

Further up river, from the Landcross bridge I drew a crenellated building on the river bank, set against trees.  A search on the internet reveals this to be ruined lime kilns, shaped according to the landowners whim. This simple fast drawing is closer to my purpose: the paint should not simply follow the lines.

I lost the charcoal pencil  from my drawing kit.  So I reverted to the pen, but now keeping the lines to a minimum.  I could not use the bite of this smooth paper to capture the reflected sky sparkling from the water.  Instead I used a white conte crayon as a resist before dragging wet colour across. I also used crayon to adjust the intensity of tone on the distant hills and overlay the near grasses.

A shout to Outside Authority whose enigmatic drawings always influence me.

9 responses to “H charcoal squares and shapes (17 sketches, a journey)

  1. I really like the way the color gives an added dimension. I have never had much luck with charcoal, although I like its rough edges. All in all a wonderful sequence. (K)

  2. What an amazing series and what development! I think you need to find that charcoal pencil again or invest in a new one. I use one and still get a thrill when I drag it over wet paper. A great post for you to mull over and see what threads you want to follow.

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