Charcoal Drawings

History of Charcoal Drawings

Charcoal drawings can be dated as early as 23,000 BCE, as charred sticks allowed early humans to draw images of animals and people on cave walls. Evidence of these types of drawings is present in numerous cultures, from Aboriginal Australians, to sub-Saharan African tribes. In the last millennium, artists have predominantly created charcoal drawings as studies and initial drawings for larger and more complicated paintings that would later be executed. Charcoal was the preferred media for experimenting with form and composition, as it could easily be manipulated and wiped away. It is one of the most versatile mediums, and can be applied easily to a variety of surfaces. During the Renaissance, artists developed techniques which enabled a charcoal drawing to become ‘fixed,’ so that a drawing would not fade away over time. In the late 19th century, charcoal drawings became popular as standalone works of art; many of these explorations included a large amount of charcoal drawings of people. Presently, charcoal drawing is ubiquitous in almost every art school, and is recognized as a prestigious medium.

Charcoal Drawings Techniques

The three most popular charcoal drawing techniques include hatching, rubbing, and lifting. Hatching is a series of short, parallel lines, that from a distance meld together visually in order to form an image. Cross-hatching involves two sets of hatching sections overlaid to portray shadows and gradients in tone. The rubbing technique requires the artist to rub charcoal dust onto the surface, which produces a clean line of color. This can be done repeatedly to darken the area. The lifting technique is done using an eraser: the artist blankets the surface in charcoal and uses the eraser to “lift” the charcoal away, which in turn creates highlights. Some artists prefer to work with pastel colored charcoals, rather than the more common black and silver varieties.  Charcoal and pastel drawings have often been lauded for their ability to create impressively hyperrealistic images.

Artists Known For Charcoal Drawings

Albrecht Dürer is considered by many art historians as a pioneer of charcoal drawings. He championed the charcoal drawings as works of art in their own right, rather than just as mere studies. Some of his finished famous charcoal drawings, such as  “St. Paul” and “Agony in the Garden,” depict complex forms and copious amounts of detail, which later influenced many artists for centuries. A handful of charcoal drawings by several of the master painters exist today, including Leonardo da Vinci’s “Female Head” drawing, and Peter Paul Rubens’ beloved “Head of a Boy”. Other noted charcoal drawings include Edgar Degas’ “Woman Bathing in a Shallow Tub”, “Henri Matisse’s “Portrait of Sergei I Shchuki,” and James McNeill Whistler’s “Note in Pink and Brown.”