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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

School Holidays Project 8: Learning about Charcoal

Many adults do not like working with charcoal, because it leaves them dirty. Imagine putting charcoal in the hands of children! Yet that is precisely what we do in today's blog. It is important for children to become familiar with different mediums and to practice mark making in a variety of mediums. On top of that, charcoal has the added advantage of being one of the easiest mediums with which to introduce the concept of negative drawing. Let me show you how to introduce your child to the wonders of charcoal.

When you work with charcoal that needs to be sharpened (pencils and such) you will find that it is a good idea to keep a small container at hand in which to catch all of those sharpenings. Simply remove the wooden shavings and in a short while you will have a nice collection of charcoal powder. I also keep very short pieces of charcoal sticks in here rather than throwing them out. These things can be very handy. Let me show you how I put them to good use.

A close-up of my charcoal left-overs

My niece and nephew were coloring at my work table, finishing up a project I had done with them when I decided to start doodling with charcoal. I picked this painting on my iPad to inspire my doodle.

I captured the gist of the image in a couple of quick strokes with a charcoal stick. The kids had become very interested in what I was doing at this stage and I had to answer a lot of questions about the medium I was working in. This is always a good way to attract a child's interest. This way they experience a hunger for a medium, rather than you insisting that they work with it. I already realized that it would be good to do another charcoal project with them, but insisted that they finished the one they were busy with first. This was great motivation to speed things up on that end!

I then decide to add a hint of color to the drawing using Derwent Tinted Charcoal.

I used Thistle on the dress and hat.

The underside of the hat and the handbag was done in Lavender.

The table and chair was colored with Forest Pine.

The flesh bits were done with Sand.

The boots were colored with Burnt Orange.

The tea set was shaded in Mountain Blue.

You should have seen the astonishment on the kids' faces when I casually dipped my finger in the charcoal powder and started shading the background with my finger. There was no stopping them now. They definitely wanted to dip into the charcoal themselves!

The eldest of the two had the start of a drawing in no time at all.

The younger one was experimenting more than creating. This is very good and I did not interfere.

All the while I was showing them different ways of making marks with charcoal. I used the sharp end of the stick, as you would use a pencil. I showed them that they could turn the charcoal on its side for broad strokes. They were blissfully happy when I handed them each an eraser and showed them how to draw negatively into a shaded area by taking away color.

I challenged them to use this simple design to shape different objects. Hold the charcoal flat and pivot to and fro keeping the center steady.

I turned it into a dress and a butterfly. The little one did not have great success with this. Be sure to make allowances for ability.

Some more close-ups of ideas I put out there for them to try or discard as they liked. Note how I am working on my own paper rather than scribbling and demonstrating on their work? This is very important. Respect a child's efforts regardless of how good or bad it is.

Since the older one was happy to work on her own and I noticed the younger one liked to work negatively, I did the same thing on my paper to keep challenging him to try new things.

That is the face of a child having fun!

I saw that she had depicted an incident from her own life where she had stepped on a bee and got stung. Her foot then swelled up to the point of making it difficult to walk. Interesting. Without realizing it, she had done art journaling.

Illustrating how a medium background can go lighter as well as darker. Have you noticed that when I work with children I adjust my drawings to consist of very simple lines and shapes. It is very important that they believe that it is possible for them to attain the same results. It is not an art competition that you have to win.

Footnote: those black erasers that you are left with at the end of the session will wash clean as ever under the tap.

Share your own experiences with this in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.

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