Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Charcoal Is Messy

Well I did my first charcoal drawings in my Drawing I class and I learned it is super messy. I mean my shirt got wrecked, my pants got dirty, my arms, hands, everything. The charcoal is also very drying and my skin actually tightened up and felt uncomfortable during the three hour class. The professor said we could use gloves. I brought in a box of 500 gloves and donated it to the classroom's art supply closet.

After the charcoal experience in class I changed my clothing choices for drawing class. I wore black shirts or old shirts and dark denim jeans. We did some landscapes outside and it started to rain and my suede sandals got wrecked. So then I switched to my "rain sandals" which are the foam bottom sandals that water cannot ruin.

I had a hard time using charcoal around my house. I could not sit in bed or on the couch in the living room to draw. The kitchen table or outside was my choice.

As a result of black charcoal being such a mess to work with when given a choice of pencil or charcoal I chose pencil. However by the end of the class I was bored with the medium. I got a good feel for what the 2B, 4B, and 6B pencils could do so I was using those to do the various effects I wanted. Honestly though the charcoal is fun to work with regarding how it goes down on the paper and its ease of blending with a chamois.

One prof told us to use the same chamois for pencil and charcoal. After doing that the chamois seemed ruined and was not usable for pencil again. I don't like blending or the blended look so I am not a big chamois user anyway. I bought a second chamois that was just falling apart and leaving lint and bits all over my paper so I threw that in the trash. Then I bought a new one for the next semester though. We never did use the stumps to blend.

Oh and charcoal drawings will rub off over time unless they are fixed. Prof 1 told us to buy the cheapest hairspray we could find in an aerosol can, I got one for $4 in some brand I'd never heard of at the grocery store and used it. The spray fixatives contain neurotoxins so I prefer to stay away from them.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Art Materials Details Not Taught

 The most surprising thing about taking a Drawing I class at my community college is that we are not really being taught about the properties of the materials and how to actually use them. The course started with one professor who was ill and the class was taken over by another professor. So with two professors it remained consistent that we were not being taught how to use the materials before we dove in.

With the first professor I started just asking aloud to the class, every question I had. The way I see it, as a student I am the customer and the professor works for me. I am there to learn and what is not being directly told to me I have a right to inquire until I get the information I want.

Prior to this class I had taken some workshops. Every workshop I ever took was very hands on and it taught every single thing you needed to know about the material in order to work with it optimally. You can even get this information free on YouTube in tutorials now.

Sometimes in the Drawing I class the professor would criticize an artwork during the critique and the problem was based in poor choice of either the paper type used or the drawing implement. For example one prof kept saying one student's work was too light and I finally butted in and asked her which pencil she was using and she said 2H. Then the prof said 2H is only good for architects doing fine draftwork of blueprints. We were never even taught which pencils are hard vs. soft and which to use. The second professor said near the end of the class that he likes 3B. I had been using 4B and 6B only and I found I liked the softer pencils. In the start of the class I wound up using google to search for some answers about what is the difference with the pencil's numbers.

Some homework assignments were so vague I turned to YouTube to get the gist of the art project we were tasked to do then I followed the tutorials online to do the work which was indeed what the professor wanted.

I was using a 300 series Strathmore drawing paper and I had trouble erasing charcoal. We should have been told with the supply list to buy a certain specific paper weight. Also some students were using sketch paper, they bought the wrong paper but the profs said nothing in class about this. Then in the critique some students said the drawing got messed up as it was falling apart when they tried to erase back to get to white (because it was too flimsy). We were never told that the different papers have different tooth and that matters for the texture. I figured out some of this by just using the materials. Actually the second prof near the very end did suggest that if we were doing our final project in charcoal we should use bristol paper. That was not on the supply list and neither prof even explained to us what bristol paper was.

These is a very basic art supply information. If that is not appropriate to learn in Drawing I, I do not know when it is right to learn it.

I also read the textbook cover to cover and these things were never taught in the text. The text focused on showing famous artists' work from history and telling about different types of drawing techniques used. It did not teach how to do the technique but it would say, X drawing by -- done in charcoal on ___ substrate or it would say chiaroscurro is ____ and here is a drawing done in that style.

Near the end of the class professor B mentioned how he holds his pencil. We were all fixed already on pretty much holding it as we hold a pencil to write with. Why was that not taught on day one?

The professors had a different focus on what should be taught in Drawing I. I'll blog about that in the future. I want to get some of this written out before I begin taking the Drawing II class so the information does not meld together.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Why Draw In Pencil?

In my college Drawing I class we started off learning with pencil. It seems this is the norm. So why this is was a mystery to me until I started working with the materials then I understood.

1. Pencils are cheap. A high quality pencil is under $2. You actually don't need a huge pencil set to start. I favor the soft pencils so I worked with 2B, 4B, and 6B. Most basic pencil sets come with various H pencils, I have no use for them personally. Pencil sets are often about $10 or even $15 if you buy one that has an eraser and a sharpener. To me the best investment is a high quality sharpener, a kneadable eraser, a white eraser (rectangle shape), a chamois, a 2B, 4B, and 6B and a 2H if you simply must have that hard thing, perhaps for base sketches. You can get all that for under $20 which is low cost as far as fine art supplies goes. Therefore it's affordable for a college student or anyone on a budget.

2. Pencils are easily portable and pretty durable. Pencils do not melt. They do not shatter and break apart. All you need is some basic care such as not dropping them on the floor or slamming them around. They do well in dry weather and in humid weather, in heat or in cold. They do not dry up or erode over time, you can use a 50 year old pencil just fine. Not all drawing supplies are like this!

3. Pencils are clean to work with. The act of putting pencil to paper is clean so you can do this in a public place, in a car, on your couch, in bed, or anywhere else without muss and fuss. As you use the pencil it does not make dust that falls off onto the surrounding surfaces. When smearing around the pencil on the paper you should use chamois not your finger. The only possible mess is if working on large paper you may get a dirty hand but the graphite comes off quickly with plain soap and water.

4. Pencil drawings hold up well in storage. After making a pencil drawing there is just some risk of rubbing off onto the page next to it. Other than this no special storage is required. The pencil will stay on the paper nicely without special storage needs like chalk pastel or charcoal requires.

5. With one pencil you can get a lot of value shades in your drawing. The same cannot be said for paint. One marker cannot do a full range of value either. By erasing back to plain paper, you can get white without the use of a white pencil.


1. It's hard to get a true black. You can use an ebony pencil for this or a charcoal pencil.

2. It's hard to get a tiny bit of white, erasing can be challenging for a teeny spot, so you can use a white conte crayon pencil if you must.

3. If you don't use a decent quality sharpener you will go through your pencil faster and you might not be able to get a sharp tip. Spend the $10 or so to get a decent sharpener at a fine art store.

Speaking from my own limited experience these are the benefits I see to using pencil to learn to draw with.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Why Start To Draw in Black and White (Grayscale)?

I didn't care a thing about drawing in black and white (grayscale) but it's what is done. When I started the Drawing I class I still did not know why that is the standard. I wanted to learn to see color and draw and paint in color. In the past in college back in the 1980s we shot in film and in my college class we used black and white as we did our own lab developing and the chemical process for developing B&W is far easier than developing color film. So we were told back then that's why we were shooting B&W photos.

What I have come to learn by doing is that there are two main challenges with learning to draw. (And learning to draw is a skill foundation to learning to paint.)

The first skill to hone is to actually see a thing for the value and shapes that it is instead of seeing the sum total of the thing. I remember doing nature study with my kids in our homeschool and we were looking at a dandelion flower and my son was six years old and he drew a daisy looking thing even though the flower in front of him was nothing near that shape. He was drawing a flower that he saw in his mind and memory, a generic flower shape instead of the shapes of the dandelion flower in front of him. When a person tries to draw a self-portrait they may draw two exact looking eyes when in reality one of their eyes droops and one has a larger eyelid.

The second skill is to see the values. I have blogged already about values and my challenge with learning to see value. I believe that drawing is taught in graysale because color is too complex and color matching or color mixing of paint adds too many variables to the situation. In order to draw something that looks realistic you must see and replicate value correctly and it is simplest to train your mind and eye to convert the colored world in front of you to grayscale then use the simpler drawing materials of one thing such as graphite pencil, charcoal, or an ink pen in one shade. Perhaps you use a sienna colored conte crayon to draw what in reality is a green tree, that's okay, Focus on getting the value right and the brain will see and comprehend the object for what it really is even though it's in a monotone drawing.

Now that I am learning to see value I realize things are not what they seem. The leaves in my garden outside are not green. some are almost black, some have light reflecting off that makes it white, and then there are the many shades of actual green. Some are yellow green, some are gray-green and some are deep green. When trying to learn to draw something in perspective and to draw a correct shape, and to draw with a good composition in the scene, by narrowing down from full color to a grayscale it takes one variable in the equation away so we can focus just on the other foundation of making art basics.

So even if you have no desire to draw in pencil, it's really the easiest way to start so that is why every drawing class startss off with drawing with pencil. I'll blog more about why pencil in my next post because there are some other good reasons.