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Drawing Lesson 37, Part 3 – Drawing a Girls Face

Drawing a Girls Face – Charcoal Portrait

Video Lesson Description

In this video lesson you will discover the process of Drawing a Girls Face in Charcoal.

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Drawing a Girls Face in Charcoal

We continue Drawing a Girls Face in charcoal. Deeper shadows are achieved in several stages. This approach allows the artist to build up gradually the tonal values, while having a greater control over the drawing progress.

When Drawing a Girls Face, the quality and feel of the charcoal line can vary greatly, and will depend on the method of application that the fine artist is using. It is easy to draw in every direction with charcoal. It tends to change the quality of the line, depending on whether the stick is being pulled or pushed over the paper. Pulling the stick produces more fluid and free lines, while pushing makes lines denser in tone, giving a solid effect to the drawing. The charcoal stick can also be applied horizontally both by pulling it along lengthways or widthways. It goes without saying, lengthways produces narrow lines, and widthways creates a broad stroke, reflecting the texture of the paper.


Drawing a Girls Face
In this “Drawing a Girls Face” video, you will also see how to use a charcoal pencil. Drawing a girls face in charcoal pencil gives greater control over the drawing’s tonal values. The pencil strokes are applied in the same way as a graphite pencil, but with less pressure. Compressed charcoal pencils come in soft, medium, and hard grades. All charcoal pencils are more fragile than graphite ones, and shall be handled with care, to avoid breaking while drawing.

When drawing a girls face, keep in mind that charcoal drawings can be created with very subtle, or well-contrasted and developed tonal effects. There is a variety of ways to do so. This medium beautifully compliments the grain of the paper. On the other hand, smooth tonal gradations can be achieved by softening and lightening charcoal strokes with a paper stump.

When it comes to drawing a girls face, some artists draw with thin charcoal, using small circular movements. Through this technique, it’s possible to create a continuous half-tone effect. The lightness and darkness in this case, is varied by the pressure applied to the stick. It is better to go from left to right if you are right-handed. Of course, a ‘mahl-stick’ can be used to rest your hand over the drawing without smudging the charcoal.

In this “Drawing a girls face” lesson, some of tonal effects are achieved by rubbing in. When drawing a girls face using this method, remember that the paper grain would be more visible if a tonal drawing is done on a rough textured paper. Smoother papers can also be used for rubbing in charcoal, however the paper should have enough tooth to hold charcoal particles. Very smooth paper isn’t suitable for the job, as the charcoal simply slips off it.

If an artist’s intention is to do a drawing with perfectly smoothed gradations of tone, rather than highlight the natural grain of the paper and roughness of the charcoal stick, then the shading can be rubbed with a paper stump, as we do in this video lesson.

Another charcoal technique you may try for drawing a girls face, is drawing with oil charcoal. This technique is not used in this drawing, and it would therefore be explained as a theoretical subject.

Oil charcoal is prepared by soaking charcoal sticks in linseed oil that is used for oil painting. You can place charcoal sticks upright into a container with oil, and seal it. The oil will be adsorb by the charcoal sticks; so add more by topping up the container. In 24 hours, the sticks will have soaked up enough oil, and will be ready to use. Wipe every stick, and wrap it in tin foil, or kitchen plastic film, making it airtight. This will protect them from drying out quickly. Keep in mind that the sticks will eventually dry out, even if they have been wrapped. It is better to prepare oil charcoal sticks on an “as you go” basis.

The oil charcoal gives a different quality of line and tone. The main feature of the oil charcoal is the permanence of the marks. Removing this charcoal with a regular eraser is impossible. Oil marks penetrate the support, so black medium goes into a paper or canvas, rather than staying just on the surface. It can be erased by wiping it off with linseed oil, or turpentine. This technique resembles the oil painting with oil sticks. It is advisable to prepare the support accordingly. For example, the paper can be coated with a thin layer of glue size, to prevent oil soaking inside and damaging the cellulose fibers; the canvas support can be prepared in the same way as for oil painting. It’s also worth mentioning that rubbing oil charcoal, with the paper stump, would not give the same effect as rubbing natural charcoal. The tone would stay as dark, as particles of oil charcoal would stay on the support without being swiped off. With time, an oil charcoal layer on paper, or canvas, would become dry and impossible to smudge or remove, even with the use of oil or turpentine.

When drawing a girls face, we are gradually building up tones of shadows, working in turn with compressed charcoal pencil, and the paper stump. We use a soft eraser to correct tonal values, and highlight necessary areas.

Repeated application of charcoal, and erasing it, gives quite interesting effects when drawing a girls face. The eraser not only takes off some charcoal, but also rubs it into the paper. With every erasing, a softer and richer tone is achieved by superimposing light tone layers. At the same time we want to keep the drawing fresh, therefore overworking the erasing is not necessary.

The paper stump can be used as a drawing tool for drawing a girl’s face. You may rub the stump along the charcoal stick, or charcoal marks on paper, and then use the stump with more or less pressure to achieve delicate tones. This method lets you achieve soft gradations of tone without hard edges. This is exactly how we want to handle secondary areas of the drawing – the girl’s shoulders and dress.

To fix a charcoal drawing, thus protecting it from accidental smudging, charcoal fixatives can be used. Such fixatives can be made of shellac, mastic or colophony diluted in alcohol. These days, you can buy ready-made fixatives that are sold in cans and can be sprayed over a charcoal drawing. Modern fixatives are polyvinyl acetate solutions dissolved in an acetate solvent. These ingredients don’t sound particularly healthy; therefore spraying the drawing shall be done in a well-ventilated room, or outside. It is advisable to do two or three coats of the fixative. The acetate solvent evaporates quite fast, so the process will not take too long. Such fixatives work well for both small and large-scale artworks. However, do not expect the charcoal drawing to be completely safe from smudging after this fixative; the drawing shall be handled with care even after fixation. As an alternative solution, some artists are using strong hair spray as a fixative for their artwork.

Another good way to protect the charcoal drawing is to cover it with two or three coats of an acrylic emulsion. A spray gun would be required for that purpose. Acrylic emulsion will provide much stronger protection compare to the polyvinyl acetate solution. It will hold the charcoal in its original state, permanently sealing the surface. Acrylic emulsion shall be sprayed with care; the air pressure should be set to low to avoid blowing charcoal dust off the drawing. The acrylic emulsion needs to be diluted with 10% water, and every coat must be completely dry before applying another.

A PVA emulsion is also suitable for protecting a charcoal drawing. However, it might give a yellowish tint over time, so it isn’t highly recommended, unless your charcoal drawing is on a yellow-brown colored support, and an extra yellow tint would not affect the overall look of the artwork.

Great art begins with the great drawing. Practice makes it perfect.

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