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


Life Looms Large said...

That is cool! I thought it would be some amazingly drawn out process. Perhaps some day art students will be using charcoal made by a famous charcoal maker in Oregon (or wherever you end up!)


dana said...

You are so intrepid! It would never have occurred to me that I might make my own charcoal. I'm anxious to see a drawing.

Unknown said...

So absolutely amazing!!! I worship at your alter!!

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