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Charcoal drawing is a dry media achieved by applying charcoal (stick, pencil or powder) to paper. It is a versatile media that can achieve rough, bold marks or smooth and steady ones. Charcoal boldly responds to the drawing surface, while being easily removable. The use of charcoal dates back to ancient times. Charcoal was, and still is used in a variety of artistic techniques outside of drawing, including spolvero, which is a technique of transferring drawings or plans from one surface to another by passing charcoal over small uniform holes that are punched along the drawing’s outline. Charcoal drawing has been historically used as a method of preparation for “finished” works, usually paintings. Preparatory charcoal drawings and finished drawings can be extremely valuable.

 

 

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What are the most valuable charcoal paintings ever sold?

One of the most expensive drawings sold to date is by the hand of Raphael Sanzio, which went for $47 million. The work titled Head of an Apostle joined another record-setting drawing titled Head of a Muse, which also sold for a record-setting $47.9 million in 2009 at Christie’s.

What are some common charcoal drawing techniques?

  • Hatching is a method in which layers of thin dark lines are placed parallel to each other.
  • Rubbing is the method of overlaying a sheet of paper on a targeted surface and passing the charcoal over the paper, applying enough pressure to create the image beneath on the surface of the paper. 
  • Blending is used to create transitions between light and dark areas of darkness, sometimes to create a shadow effect. There are many mechanisms that can be used to blend including with the hands or blending stumps.
  • Lifting (Erasing) Charcoal drawing is usually an additive method, but charcoal can also be very useful in practicing subtractive techniques. Brushing the surface with an even dark layer allows the artist to create a work by erasing light parts out of the dark background.

What kinds of damage can occur to drawings on paper and how can I protect my charcoal drawing?

  • Foxing Foxing is a common and unavoidable problem that happens as paper ages. It appears in the form of reddish brown spots caused by the iron in the paper and mildew spores that feed on the paper.
  • Acid Burn Acid burn is usually caused by wood or wood pulp coming into contact with the paper. Wood is very acidic and can cause a browning of the paper. A matte containing wood pulp or a wooden frame without a barrier between the wood of the frame and the print can cause acid burn. The process can usually be reversed by a professional paper conservator, but the process is not cheap!
  • UV Damage Paper is sensitive to light and the thinner and lower quality the paper, the more susceptible it is to UV damage. UV light damage can cause fading or yellowing of the paper.
  • General Filth If the paper has been out in the open, or is unframed, it is likely that it has accumulated some grime or filth from handling and surrounding conditions. Paper can usually be cleaned by a professional paper conservator, but of course considering the transitory nature of the charcoal medium, it is a delicate process. Framing the drawing behind glass can help prevent an overwhelming build up of grime, but dust can still make its way into the frame and onto your work. A periodic and gentle dusting of the unframed work with a very fine, soft brush that will not cause surface abrasions.

Charcoal drawings are, by their nature, very delicate. The charcoal itself sits on the surface of the paper. While the charcoal can stain the surface, the particles never fully adhere. For modern works, a fixative is often applied to bind the particles to the surface. Framing and matting with non-acidic paper is a good way to conserve the integrity of your charcoal drawing without using a chemical adhesive intervention.

Not just charcoal drawings...

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