I drew this charcoal several months ago, while experimenting with different papers. This paper was actually Newsprint, which I loved, but which yellows and deteriorates quickly. I couldn't find another other paper I liked, so I stopped doing charcoals. Silly, I know.
You see, I've long had this idea that I should make money by doing live charcoal portraits. I did caricatures for years, which I think can ruin a traditional artist if he's not careful. But don't get me wrong. Caricatures are wonderful, but for artists they're mainly wonderful if you're a cartoonist. All very respectable, but not my dream. Charcoal portraits (from a live model) are a demanding step up from caricaturing, and one step below the discipline of oil portraiture.
Of course, I've done plenty of oil portraits (although I've been taking a break for the last 3 months, to get my head straight). But my oils have been from photos.
I have this romantic notion: if I want to participate in the tradition of the old masters, then I must do my oils LIVE. The artist observes a thing in the world, and then recreates it. From the caves in France, to the Athenian artisans, to Michelangelo, and John Singer Sargent, to my doorstep now. It is one thread being stretched through the centuries. When you see those drawings in the cave, you know that MAN was there. This is the skill which defines the human as human, and abstracts us away from the animal.
But to make a living, and to increase my skill, I believe charcoal portraits, done live, and quickly, are a perfect compliment to, and enhancement of, oil portraiture. I have this image of me setting-up on a sidewalk, with or without permission from whomever thinks they are the giver of permissions of whichever site, and doing fantastic, mind-blowing, beautiful charcoal portraits for 10 bucks a pop or something. ...Maybe I can do it one day, maybe not.
But to do live charcoal portraits, I must be sure of my materials, I must understand my materials. As of yet, I can't find the right combination of materials. Mainly, I cannot find a paper I like, which is readily available, and inexpensive, but of better quality than Newsprint.
And here's my confession. While I've taken a break from portraiture, I've also just realized that I have drawn NOTHING. Three months, NOTHING. I have found myself taking a break from all I know or understand or love. It has been a quiet Hell of sorts, walking through the days, doing whatnot, surviving, and unable to find the merest scrap of ambition.
And then, two days ago, I grabbed a blue-ink ball-point pen, and started drawing. I found it strange that the ability to draw, to see, still resided in me. A mystery, a joy.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I found this accidentally yesterday. I keep replaying it for the music, but also for the technique and the beauty of the charcoal portrait. Looks like vine and/or compressed charcoal. Notice how the artist blocks-in roughly and darkly, then "washes" the face, then drags a rag to soften and sink-in certain areas like the hair, and then restates dark areas, and then lifts off the highlight areas, bringing the visage to life, and then the final details. I'm guessing it was about a 20-minute drawing from a live model, but I don't know. If you go to the artist's YouTube channel, he has several more videos.