Art is Hard: The Dreaded Stick Charcoal

November 2, 2007
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I corral the graphite, charcoal, ink and erasers from their random positions on my desk and arrange them into my blue tool box. Zipping a board and a pad of paper into my canvas portfolio, I grab the tool box and head to open studio. I tread one block and climb a colossal stair case before finally entering a brilliant white room with light cascading through the windows. Unfortunately, the sun must be shut out along with watchful eyes, so I help another student close the blinds. Working under artificial lighting: the price art students pay for the opportunity to draw a live model. The model undresses and takes his position as I unload my supplies at an easel. Once all the students have set up, the instructor winds a timer and the pose has begun.


The instructor recognizes the stub of a graphite stick between my thumb and forefinger and suggests that I use charcoal. I resist for this simple fact: The clarinet played by a heavy metal rock star sounds similar to how my charcoal drawings look. Disastrous. After an attempt at convincing the professor that I really should use graphite, I end up with a stick of charcoal in my hand.


I proceed to put the media to paper with much hesitation and little confidence. Deciding on a more abstract method, I cover all 432 square inches of paper with charcoal. I dig through my toolbox for a chamois and a variety of erasers. I rest my eyes on the model, taking in the details then releasing them on paper. I rub out the highlights on the skin, muscles, and eyes. Running the chamois along the page, I reveal the high plains of the face and folds of fabric on the chair. I flood a charcoal pencil through the lowest and darkest areas. Only slightly aware of a buzzer sounding followed by figures moving in and out of the room, I look up to find the model dressing himself for a fifteen minute break. I continue to work on the dark values of the drawing until the other students return to their easels. When the model finally sits back down I analyze my drawing. I spot inaccuracy in my original perception of the leg’s position. I erase then replace the highlights with charcoal until the placement of the leg looks correct. A faint buzzer tells me that an hour has passed. Coming out of my drawing trance, I notice my aching hand and my bent and crooked spine.


Through strained eyes I observe my drawing. Surprisingly, the final product shows a great deal of accuracy. This piece is soft, soft. The values in the flesh are delicate and shaded as rich as the cocoa in milk chocolate and the background is empty and dark like the loneliness of night skies. After conquering my most feared media, I experience a sense of accomplishment derived from nothing other than art.


I gather my supplies, place them into my tool box, and exit the studio, for today.





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