Art by Jeff Knecht

St. Clement Church

18 Apr 2009

Charcoal continues to kick my butt.

There are thousands of beautiful old buildings in Chicago, and I want to be able to draw them. The weather is finally turning nice, so I should start to see more opportunities to do just that. I am really enjoying my charcoal adventure. But I am really struggling to get a good handle on it. The evidence is in the massive inconsistency between the bell tower and the main facade of the church. Though, to be totally fair to myself, I did stop before I felt like I was finished due to time constraints; and I did focus a little more on the bell tower.

I spent an hour sitting on the sidewalk across from this church which is two blocks from my condo. I had several false starts until I finally set my mind to finish a sketch no matter how badly it starts.

Anyway, I am starting to learn some things about myself that I thought I would share:

I tend to let the looseness of a really soft charcoal dictate a very loose drawing style. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I tend to focus on the negative space and the shadows much more than the object itself when I am working with charcoal. The result is a much more impressionistic approach than when I am sketching with pencil.

Once I have an implement in-hand, I tend to use it until I am forced to switch — especially when drawing away from my normal space, where I can spread out all my pencils, erasers, and such.

I don’t erase. This is true when I am using a pencil too. When I first picked up my pencils back in October, I made a conscious decision to not use an eraser — it was an exercise in discipline, to force myself to learn to make the right line the first time. But now that I have switched to charcoal, I think I might benefit from using an eraser at least as a shading tool.

My sketchbook is not necessarily receptive to the combination of charcoal and fixative. The charcoal separates in spots, which might be related to my habit of blending with my fingers.

Of all these things, point number 2 is the most interesting to me. I really do think differently with a piece of charcoal in my hand. I wonder why that is.