Beauty of Charcoal 2

This week, Dave continues his look into charcoal by firing the willow branches he gathered in Whitworth park and leading a workshop with the team.



The firing of charcoal is relatively easy but requires a safe and careful approach when using your heating method.

Using clean, thin dry wood logs that have been dried out over 12 months  as burner fuel. When lit this becomes very hot.


charcoal firing
Small wood heater used for firing the charcoal ‘cans’ as placed on the top getting very hot.


The ‘firing’ process takes about 40 minutes heating a small tin can filled with dried out willow twigs covered with two layers of aluminium foil firmly pressed around the sides of the tin.


The dried twigs arranged inside prior to sealing with foil.


The can is placed carefully on top of the wood burner and, once the flames have died down, the heat will start to ‘roast ’ the sticks inside. The pin hole in the top of the foil is essential allowing the heated air and smoke to escape but not allowing fresh air to get back into the tin thus creating a vacuum. This lack of oxygen prevents the sticks burning up and turning to ash as the heating process progresses.


Charcoal can
The cooled charcoal sticks can be seen inside after the firing process has finished.


The reductive method of drawing, rubbing out and re-working, is a popular way of image making especially if the paper your working on has a lot of ‘tooth’- textured and feels rough to the fingertips. William Kentridge is very particular on the feel of the papers that he works on, often using old maps, encyclopaedias and dictionaries, of some age and yellowing, giving an added quality and graphic character to the drawings.


William Kentridge b.1955 ‘Invisible Mending ‘ 2003 . Self-portrait in charcoal with white highlights added to the drawing.


Pages that we drew onto came from old discarded books donated by the Visitor Team with titles like ‘Metropolis’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Lord of the World’ and some photocopies  of Hogarths ‘Rakes Progress’  prints put onto brown sugar paper found from a few years ago.

Different papers and texts used as background texture for our visitor team drawings.


With some pages stuck together with gum strip, our drawing session of forty minutes was over too quickly and packing them up carefully one could see a range of subjects, marks and rubbings all excellently drawn.


finished 3
Some of the finished drawings in a variety of shapes and sizes all using Whitworth charcoal on a selection of different backgrounds.


The resulting drawings can be ‘fixed’ using specialist fixative sprays as the charcoal is very fugitive and rubs of surfaces easily. Even cheap hairspray will work. Older master drawings used to be prepared and preserved using Gum Arabic as a paper fixative.


Charcoal group.jpg cropped
Some of the finished drawings in a variety of shapes and sizes all using Whitworth charcoal on a selection of different backgrounds.


With quite a few sticks of charcoal left over our next session will be to convert these left overs into our own Indian Ink.

Watch this space.

Dave blog end image


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