New Explorations in Charcoal

December 29, 2011

This past fall, Opus teamed up with the Continuing Studies Department at Emily Carr University of Art + Design to produce a series of videos with their instructors, including artist Vjeko Sager. Vjeko shared his love of charcoal (he confesses to being a “charcoal-holic”) and demonstrated some of his techniques, using charcoal to create large scale, abstract works that made me look at this medium in a whole new way.

Having worked very little with it myself, I thought of charcoal mostly as something used for sketching and portraiture in a very traditional style. His graphic approach to the medium –  in particular his use of stencils – inspired me to give it a try. After gathering my materials (rough sketch paper; compressed charcoal in varying hardnesses; some brushes and some fabric to apply the charcoal; a kneaded eraser; graph paper, an X-Acto knife and decorative scissors to create stencils, plus a lettering guide and a circle template to use as stencils as well), I set to work.

I started by experimenting, using the brushes and the cloth to apply the charcoal to the sketch paper through the paper stencils and templates, and removing some of it with the eraser. Once I had gotten to know my materials, I cut a stencil from the graph paper and started again with a fresh surface.

For this piece, I limited myself to just the charcoal, paper stencil, and cloth. The result was a small, pixelated abstract that I felt needed a some larger, softer background shapes. I cut a new stencil, loaded a brush, and added them in. Some of the smaller shapes ended up losing their hard edge so I just lined up my stencils again and went over them with charcoal.

I was excited to experiment further and to add some colour so, the next day, I added pastels to the mix, cut some new shapes, and created a second piece.  Next up: working on various surfaces, perhaps a collaged base, and working big like Vjeko! Visit to see his video for inspiration in your own explorations of this wonderful medium.