Sketching faces with charcoal (using brush techniques)
Originally written Jan 2004. Copyright ArtGraphicA.net
Notes: Some of the source material is permanently missing, and screenshots are salvaged largely from the original compressed videos (no longer in existence).
Like the previous Figure Drawing Lesson - female figure in charcoal this free art lesson on drawing faces again uses charcoal and a brush, though this time the water is added to charcoal particles, a red earth-like pastel is used, and the paper is prepared before use. The walrus moustache and hair of this 19th century philosopher, make it an ideal subject for the medium using a more coarse, hog's hair brush to render the textures in a rapid manner. Following paper preparation the sketch took about half an hour to complete.
How to Sketch Faces in Charcoal - Free Portrait Demo
Charcoal (thick stumps as opposed to the thinner vine charcoal).
Pre-soaked watercolour paper, attached to hardboard by means of masking tape. White acrylic gesso (tinted with yellow ochre acrylic paint) has already been applied.
Piece of cloth (cut off an old t-shirt). Useful for dampening and removing unwanted charcoal.
Glass jar to hold water. Used to dampen the cloth (C), and for moistening the paint brush when dipping into the charcoal dust.
Paper plates. Cheap, and useful for holding the gesso paint and/or dust particles.
Putty eraser. An alternative to the cloth for creating highlights or effects (I didn't use the putty in the end).
Dark Conte pencil (though a charcoal pencil would have been just as appropriate).
Packet of vine charcoal, of the thin twig like.
Paper is completely a personal choice. I used a 40 cm by 30 cm sheet of thick watercolour paper, but acrylic gesso has a tendency to warp even tough paper, and so before I began I filled up the bath tub and let the sheet soak for five minutes. Next, I turned the sheet over and gave it another five minutes or so before pulling it out of the tub, giving it a quick and gentle wipe with a towel, and laying it down onto a rigid sheet of MDF board (use whatever you like - Masonite, foamboard - any rigid support should do). Working quickly I taped the four edges of the paper with masking tape, adding extra tape across the corners as there is a danger that when the paper dries, it will break free of the tape. Having pre-soaked the paper in this manner, I felt fairly confident that when I came to add the gesso, the paper would remain unbuckled.
A quick word about acrylic gesso for those who do not know about this paint. There are many brands available, you need only pop down to your local art shop, or order online. For those new to art, art shops can be a little intimidating with so many unknown products on the shelves. I recall my first visit to an art supply chain, and as I wandered amongst the alien shelves, filled with so many unknowns, I could sense the eyes of artists aware of my inexperience as I awaited the cries and jeers of, 'he's not a real artist. Intruder! - throw him out!!' I had vaguely heard about odourless turpentine, and so approached the shop assistant and asked if they had any. She mouthed the word back to me "odourless?" as though I had tried to order an Indian take-away, and I recall thinking, oh god I've just asked for a fictional product! She had not heard of the product, and so asked the shop manager. I stood there contemplating whether to make a run for it and never showing my face in their establishment again, however, before the flight response kicked in, the manager looked at me, and said, 'yes we have some on the shelf over here'! I picked up a bottle, handed it to the shop assistant, smiled, possibly with just a faint trace of smugness, for I was now an expert in art materials!
Anyway, back to gesso!!... The paint is fairly inexpensive, and used extensively by oil painters in preparation of their canvases (if oil paint comes in contact with canvas, wood or paper, the surface will eventually rot). I decided to use acrylic gesso, in part to add more tooth and texture to the paper, and also that I might tint the colour with a little added yellow ochre acrylic paint. You can see from the photograph below, that I used a cheap paper plate to mix the yellow ochre acrylic and gesso together. The brush I use is a cheap all-purpose one, with fairly sturdy bristles which added 'tooth' (charcoal adheres more easily to a rougher surface). Please note, that if using acrylic gesso (or any acrylic paint) you must wash your brush promptly after use. Failure to do so will result in the paint drying solidly on your brush, which you can then pretty much kiss goodbye.
Applying Gesso to Paper
Here I apply the gesso to the paper with a crisscross motion of the hand until it is covered up to the edges of the masking tape.
Toning the Paper
Having ground the red pastel and charcoal into dust, I decided to use the same large bristle brush I used to apply the gesso, to spread the dust particles around. Although it may vaguely look like I know what I am doing, it is all rather haphazard, and my only real forethought and intention at this moment, is to roughly place the red dust within the general area of the face.
Just a quick mention of the brush I use for the majority of the following work. It is a oil painting bristle brush, bought from "The Works" bookshop, and made by Crimson and Blake. It is possibly the cheapest brush you can buy, but the hairs seem to stay fixed (although the handle shed its thin veneer of paint within a day!), and it lends itself ideally to any messy charcoal particles and creating the sketchy textures that make up the shading of the face and hair.