Here the challenge was to evoke a sense of place in charcoal with a limited palette. I’ve explored different ways of generating textures with marks, erasers, pastels and layers. These are skills you can develop further and explore in your work.
Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper is a wonderful surface for charcoal; the medium is captured by the tooth so you can add many layers and build up strong tones. I taped down all edges of the paper as I was going to be pressing hard. You can work at a slightly smaller scale but with anything less than 25x35cm you would struggle when adding fine details.
I created a base layer using the side of a half a stick of medium charcoal by bristly adding a layer of charcoal over most of the sheet, avoiding the slightly off -centre sunlit area. Here I applied a thin amount of the pale yellow to warm grey.
This layer was rubbed in firmly with a piece of folded kitchen roll (above) before adding a further two layers of charcoal. A third layer was added to the darkest areas – where the low bushes and trees would be.
Using the flat side of the eraser, I lightly burnished over the charcoal to smooth it further. I then used the sharp edge of the rubber to create loose areas of light texture. More charcoal was applied to the bushes on the right-hand side to create interesting shapes and patterns, keeping it loose. The challenge was to create a textural background to place the trees on – too plain or flat and the trees will look stark against it. I added more light yellow pastel where the sun was brightest.
To draw in the large trunks and branches I used a 5cm-long piece of medium charcoal on its side, almost printing and pressing shapes for the thinner branches. I twisted, tilted and changed angle as I dragged the charcoal along. Next, I drew with the tip of the charcoal to add another layer over parts of the trunks and to add other small branches. I switched to the thin charcoal to add further fine branches and details.
The eraser was used to create some light around trunks and branches, to change the shape of the trunks with natural seeming irregularities, particularly around the edges of the ivy-clad tree.
With the carbon pencil I added fine branch details and drew over the charcoal branches to add different angles and shapes, and drew lightly over the tree trunks and branches to imply texture, twigs and ivy. When you draw with this, try to use irregular pressure. Rather then drawing in a smooth motion, use slightly erratic marks to emulate twigs. The eraser and electric eraser were used to work over it for further textures. Finally, I drew in the branches coming into the picture from the right-hand side.
To create the sense of light breaking through I dabbed some white pastel between the branches for the sun without worrying about going over some of the smaller twigs in places. I produced bold, almost paint-like strokes with the tip of the pastel. Then different shades of yellow and grey were used to gradually shade out from the lighter area with a combination of fine lines in the pencil and further pastel marks to break up the shapes, layering the different colours of the pastels together. Finally the pastels were used on their side loosely in upward, sweeping gestures across the sky around the branches to blend the strong area of colour into the charcoal-based sky.
Winter Trees, charcoal and pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 25½ x 17¾in (65x45cm).
I used the eraser to create a path at the front to lead viewers into the picture. The joy of using this paper with charcoal is that you can add many layers but still erase and change it – this flexibility is fun to have. I did a final check over the picture. I used my fingers to soften the trees towards the left-and right-hand sides so that the focus and clarity is on the ivy-covered and largest trees. Finally, I put a touch of pale yellow on the pathway in the foreground area.