Charcoal is pretty great. I think it’s great because it’s fast, easy, cheap and very forgiving. Full of anger and hate, poisonous food and hatching spiders? Charcoal forgives you. Charcoal doesn’t care that all you have cheap sketchbooks and scraps of copy-paper. Not like ink, ink cares about your paper. Ink cares a lot! Ink cares so much that it’s going to soak right in and become part of the paper, maybe part of the other side, maybe, part of the sheet behind the top one too. Ink’s a 2. Charcoal’s a 3. That’s for sure, maybe, the very best 3 it can be.
That’s perfect too, ’cause there’s only really three sorts of charcoal.
First there’s vine. Vine is just what it says on the tin, it’s vines, burnt vines? Former vines? It was vines, the charcoal formerly known as grapevines. It comes in gently curving lenghts around the size of a pencil. Three grades, hard and medium and soft. There’s extra soft too, and probably extra hard and extra medium. It’s a bit coarse, and you can really feel it going on, even on very smooth hot-press paper. It’s uniform in cross-section, charcoal all the way through ’cause vines grow that way.
Then there’s willow. Same thing with willow, it’s formerly a tree. It’s got a pith that you can see in the center of each straight length. Willow doesn’t come in hard or soft or medium, I think it’s all soft. And it’s fragile and dustier than vine but it’s so smooth. It’s like an ice cube on a hot dashboard. It wants to move. Willow comes in different diameters, up to about the size of a lipstick.
Then there’s compressed. If it isn’t vine or willow, it’s compressed. Ignore whatever made up name the manufacturer gives it. Compressed is carbon, ground up charcoal, and it’s mixed with some sort of binder. That could be some kind of mastic gum resin or oil or just about anything really. It comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. It comes inside pencils. Then it’s got every hardness from practically dust to basically stone. The hard ones can hold a point like nobodies business.
All you need to use charcoal is a piece of it and any paper. Bigger paper is probably better but that just means it’s a good thing for implying details rather than adding them. You might want an eraser, so get a kneeded one. Get a scrap of rough canvas too, or a tissue, that’s basically an eraser too. I guess some people need a paper smudger too but just use your finger. You don’t need a sealer but it’s not gonna stop being alive until you have one and use it. Just grab a can of Krylon for six bucks. No, it doesn’t matter if you get “workable” fixative or not. Hell, people use hair-spray and if you’re working on cheap acidic newsprint or something that’s not gonna be doing much but getting worse that’s fine.
Anyway, here’s days fifteen through twentyfour. Everyday is charcoal day until I get bored.