Sunday, February 28, 2010


Here is the latest charcoal study. What is unusual about this one is that I used my own home-made charcoal in it! I am enjoying using charcoal more and more. I think that is human nature, we tend to enjoy things more when they go smoothly than when they give us trouble. 
We have another major change at the art school. Earlier this year they had announced that the school would be moving to Portland. Well, sometimes life throws a curve ball (it seems to be happening with alarming regularity these days). The school will not be moving to Portland but, due to health concerns of the founder and master teacher of the school, they will be moving to Maui. Yes, you saw it right, Maui, part of that chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The very chain that experience tsunami waves yesterday. Thankfully the waves turned out to be small as my mother and brother live in Honolulu (Hi Mom!). 
Well, after a few days of feverish research as to the feasibility of us moving to Maui too, we have decided that it would not be feasible at this time due to several factors. We will be finishing out the school year, which goes until the middle of September, here in Ashland and then... well, I will have to continue my education on my own. So now our research is turning to where we will move to next. Ashland is a lovely town but I miss the north. At the moment we are considering the north coast of Oregon where we had such an enjoyable summer. 
In the meantime, I will be working harder to get as much as I can out of the time remaining in school. 
One final note, yesterday I spent the afternoon teaching a young fellow art student how to spin! Always trying to add to the fiber ranks! -Renee

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Making Drawing Charcoal

The drawing charcoal that we have been using in art school was handmade in France. Well, the maker has retired and there is no more of this charcoal to be had. I got curious and started researching charcoal and how to make it. After a bit of research, and a trip to the Goodwill store here in Ashland where I scored an old roasting pan with a top vent, I made charcoal today!
I asked my ever-willing husband to cut up a bit of maple scrap wood into small strips.

I put some heavy duty foil in the bottom of the pan to keep the bottom cleaner. I put the pan on my tripod propane burner which I had used quite a bit for dyeing. After about 5 minutes the first smoke appeared. 
The next step might be a bit startling but I am using what is called a retort method of charcoal making. After about 10 minutes there was enough smoke and gasses coming out of the vent that I was able to light it on fire.
This can be directed to flow underneath the container if you have it set up for that and the flames can be used to continue to heat it. The flaming gasses help to keep the oxygen away from the wood so it does not burn. It also serves as a guide to tell you when the charcoal is ready! When the flames went out, I turned the propane burner off and let the pan cool. When I opened it, this is what I saw:
Finished drawing charcoal! I tested the charcoal out on charcoal paper and it works beautifully. It is a bit soft so I will need to cook the next batch a bit longer. It also curled a bit as you can see in the final two pictures. 

I plan to do a bit more experimenting. I used my documenting skills I acquired when dyeing fiber so I will have an idea how to proceed. The whole process from start to holding the finished charcoal took all of one hour. I had to take a shower afterward as I smelled like a campfire! 
A final note on charcoal making. I did a lot of research, I have a lot of experience with using propane burners, I had safety equipment standing by. If you choose to try this at home you do so at your own risk! 
On the school front, we started another charcoal drawing this week. The teacher told us we will be starting figure drawing in earnest next term! In a few weeks we will be half way through the first year. Wow! Time flies when you are having way too much fun (and working hard too).
Until next week, -Renee

Sunday, February 14, 2010



Before I get started on this week's drawing, I wish to thank all of you for reading and leaving such encouraging comments! They are appreciated. I hope to be catching up on my blog reading soon as things are gradually getting unpacked and put away here at home. 
This is another full tonal charcoal drawing that was worked in eight 3 hour sessions for a total of twenty four hours. The last six hours flew by as we were trying to get the drawings as finished as possible. This one went a lot smoother for me, much to the master teacher's approval. I can feel that working with the charcoal is a lot easier than the previous drawings. Little by little the skills improve. That is not to say that I don't see every error and weakness though. I do see the improvements and the strengths but my fingers itch to pick up a stick of charcoal and smooth a tone here and define a plane there. 
For this study, I was sitting to the far right side so my view is somewhat from behind the cast statue of the helmet, and, yes the crest on the helmet made me cross-eyed while drawing it. I would do a small clump of three shapes then work on another area and then come back. It got done little by little over the course of the drawing. The little creature at the top which sort of looks like Pegasus really does look that odd in person. 
I enjoyed working on this one tremendously. I am not sure why. It could be because I liked the dramatic composition or because it went relatively smooth for me. I suspect the latter had more to do with it. We shall see with the next composition starting Tuesday. 
It is always interesting at the start of a new drawing. I look at the still life and then at the blank paper and think, "Really?" "That is supposed to end up here?" Yet, they train us to know how to start and proceed so we do and eventually, it does end up on your paper! I still find that rather amazing.
The edges on this picture are a bit more cropped than the actual drawing but the crest does come pretty close to the edge of the drawing, just not as close as the picture looks. 
Construction drawing went a lot better this week too. I had a hand to draw and finally actually got to the construction part. I will post it next week as I suspect that we are in for another long drawing this coming week. 
In between school and unpacking I will try to get a bit of Olympic viewing in. I can't tell you how disappointed I am to not be able to watch the Olympics on the Canadian TV stations. The Canadian coverage has always been superior to the American coverage in my view and this year with them being on the West Coast it would have been even better. We are in the same time zone yet NBC delays the coverage, twice. The American coverage ends long after the actual events have taken place. Ah well, I could rant about this for a few more paragraphs. I will enjoy what I can. We have often been to Whistler in the summertime so it is fun to see all the familiar places.
Hello to all our Canadian friends and great job on the Olympics.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


We are in the middle of another long charcoal study so I am posting last week's construction drawing. This drawing and this week's drawing was a bit of a challenge. It is a new way of thinking for me. As I have in many things, I struggle a bit at the beginning. If I was able to nail it, I suppose I wouldn't need to go to school! I didn't post this week's drawing as the instructor did a lot of drawing on it to show me how to work it. It was very helpful. The foot above was a rather large cast and I had a rather challenging angle. Challenge is good but can be frustrating. 
I now have a room to draw in and am loving it. Today, after taking my dog three blocks to the dog park, I walked into town and sketched at a cafe for an hour and then stopped in at the local food co-op to pick up a few things. Life is good! 
This is a bit of a short post. I should have a bit more to say in the next one. 
Until next week...
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