© Elizabeth Barsham 2005 - not to be copied without permission
The Humpy - charcoal on paper (© E.M. Christensen 2000 not to be copied without permission)
If this were the CD, you could see a full-screen image

As an introduction to painting I suggest you begin by using charcoal. This is because it is a simple, direct medium which can be mastered very quickly.

The one indispensable skill you must learn is observation, particularly how to observe and reproduce different tones. The procedures in this exercise are basic to practically everything you do from here on so even if you decide to skip a chapter or two, make sure you work through this one.

Materials
A2 Como pad or cartridge paper
drawing board
bulldog clips or masking tape
easel (or substitute)
one or two sticks of charcoal

Subject matter Find some still-life objects. Select plain-coloured household objects such as flower pots, crockery, vegetables, shoes, children’s toys, carpentry tools.

Preliminary exercise - observing tonal areas

Tonal Scale

Work on white paper, using charcoal, pencil or graphite stick.
To one side of your page draw a tonal scale of five tones from black (as dark as possible) to white (blank paper), making it about 20 cm high. This represents the selection of tones you can use in your drawing.

There are no rules for working with charcoal. Feel free to smudge it about as much as you like. Just try to make sure your black is as black as you can possibly get it and that the whole of each square is an even tone, with no white paper showing and no dark blotches. Be as precise as possible - you won't get any Brownie Points or a gold star for neatness, but it will help you learn to control the medium.

When you have done this, find a simple, plain-coloured object for your first drawing. A white jug or a couple of eggs or a plain plastic bottle or bowl will do nicely. You should need only ten to fifteen minutes, depending on your subject, but take your time. There is no prize for finishing first. The aim of the exercise is not to end up with a beautiful drawing, but to learn how to analyse shapes and tones. This skill is as basic to drawing and painting as learning the alphabet is to reading.

Set up your drawing board in such a way that your page is vertical and you can see both the subject and your drawing at the same time. If you are right-handed you should just look past the left side of the drawing board. If left-handed, reverse this instruction. You will find it more comfortable working this way, and being able to see everything at once gives you no time to forget what you saw before you can draw it.
Try to arrange the lighting so you have a good strong light from one source above and to one side of your subject. This will make it easier to identify a variety of tones.


Of course, there is a lot more about this on the CD, with lots of good illustrations


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