Say the word, and any artist will have a multitude of reactions. There’ll be those who recoil in horror, those whose face lights up, and those who look somewhat indifferent.
And then there’ll be artists like myself, who will have a multitude of reactions that can’t be classified as one or the other. It depends on the time – sometimes, I look forward to using charcoal. Yet there are other times where I wish such a type of media was never invented and dread using the material.
Bold, daring and simple, it stands out as the basic drawing material. Yet it holds such power and composure; if one were to walk past a drawing with charcoal, they wouldn’t walk away. The artist behind anything involving charcoal surely feels intimidated by the permanent, bold lines that are put forth by a mere stick – prone to breakage at any point in time. The hand behind charcoal always trembles, unsure of how to weld such an important object. Should the pen be mightier than the sword, then what is of charcoal, which is far greater than any pen could ever try to be? It takes extreme skill to use charcoal, and should even the tiniest bit smudge – God, forbid that it smudges – then everything, every last little scrap of whatever has been drawn – should go to waste.
Whether one hates it or loves it, there’s no denying the tranquillity that comes with using charcoal. The focus and determination behind each sure stroke allow the artist to lapse into a state of scary concentration, nothing but the next movement in mind. The sounds narrow into three things: the artist’s own breathing, the sound of their heart beating and – who could forget? – the sound of charcoal rubbing against the teeth of the paper. Imagine the sound of a brittler, thicker pencil that sounds rough when pressed to paper – but it’s soft, too, a bit calming in a way.
And that’s what makes up a session using charcoal – the sound of your breathing, your heartbeat and the sound of the charcoal. The furrow in your brow as you get the next few strokes as precise as possible. The final look over your work once it’s done, hands on hips and a contemplative look etched into your features. The quick readjustments made and the very last slightly-unsatisfied-yet-still-completely-satisfied hmph that just sets the piece alive (in your own mind, at least).
Then, of course, is the regret behind not wearing an apron, getting the dark powder all over your hands – and subsequently your shirt, too, because charcoal pretty much ends up being the bane of your existence in the end.