Hints 'n' Tips
Starting Out In Charcoal
Preparing for paintings by using black and white studies
One really effective way to begin planning your next studio painting is to do several thumbnail sketches until you hit on something you like. After that, you might forgo heading directly into oil paint and do some pre-planning in the medium of soft vine charcoal. The reason for this is because soft vine charcoal is very workable, takes the eraser well, and is a joy to work with when making changes and adjustments. As a drawing medium, it is the closest thing I know to oil painting in many respects. Specifically, you are dealing with a “mass” approach in charcoal, as opposed to a linear one, as in pen or pencil. Also, you are working with values, edge control and textures to some extent; the only thing it lacks is color, which at this stage of planning, is a plus! It’s a great way to work out problems associated with painting, before you ever set brush to canvas.
In my studio I have a number of drawing boards that I cut from larger pieces of quarter-inch MDF board, purchased from any home improvement store or lumber supply company. These drawing boards are ready when I need them, with a good quality charcoal paper handy, which can be taped to the board for quick access. I have cut these boards in two sizes: (21” x 24”) for most studio situations, as well as a couple of 14 x 20s for outside use. I have constructed carrying boxes with slots in order to carry them without disrupting the drawing surface when in transport.
A good quality paper is also very critical for modeling in charcoal, as well as being able to lighten areas of the drawing and to make crisp erasure marks. Without a good quality paper, it’s very difficult to make full use of the limited value range of the medium; this also enhances a clean textural effect. Papers such as newsprint that are used in college drawing classes are an excellent way for students on a budget to rack up drawing miles, but once they start to produce saleable works, it’s a must to switch to a better quality paper. The charcoal papers I mostly use are Strathmore 300 and 500 series. There are others that are equally good, and some that are even tinted, making it possible for the artist to use a white chalk to create highlight effects. You can experiment here, to your heart’s content.
When doing a charcoal drawing my tools of choice are as follows: several sticks of thin soft vine charcoal, as well as some thicker ones used in set design; a chamois, which is used to wipe the drawing surface and move large amounts of charcoal with one broad swipe; for erasers, I carry a kneaded eraser, as well as pink and white ones (there is even an eraser that comes in the form of a pencil that can be sharpened to reveal a clean tipped tool for smaller technical parts of the drawing); a couple of bristle or synthetic oil painting brushes, to move the charcoal around as well as a paper stump for blending and modeling the forms of the drawing. Add to these some sandpaper for sharpening the vine, blue housepainter’s tape for securing the paper to the board and there you have it, all the tools you need to create a quality charcoal rendering.
You can use any standard easel outdoors to prop up your drawing boards, but make sure they are well-anchored to the easel, so as to prevent the wind from catching them and turning your boards into kites! In some situations, you may even have to anchor the easel to the ground with a rope and a tent stake.
After you have made your initial drawing, it is best to study it for a while, so that you can assess it for possible errors in composition and design. This waiting period can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but often coming back to a drawing after a day or two will be just what you need to gain a fresh eye that is so important in getting things back on track. The reason for this is simple enough — it is very easy to become accustomed to errors in a design, whether it be a drawing or painting. Seeing something a little bit later, in a mirror, through a reducing glass or a tinted glass, will often give you that fresh way of looking, that jolts you out of your “perceptual comfort zone” and into a more objective frame of mind. You may know of other ways to accomplish this, and if it works for you, do it; it can only improve your understanding, as well as your art.
After viewing the drawing you may even decide to make major changes or discard the idea you had in mind for a painting altogether. Better now than later, when you have invested a lot of time, paint and linen canvas to a large project. Just remember, revisions are just part of the process in reaching excellence, and why settle for less. Changes are easy, and it is not always necessary to start over on a fresh drawing — simply wipe the surface back with your chamois, and re-design (note — this is only possible if you have not fixed your drawing with a spray fixative). Once you are satisfied with the drawing, pull out the spray and then move on to your canvas, using what you have learned along the way as your guide to design.
Hints 'n' Tips
Art in Education
SUU's Carrie Trenholm
When you walk into Professor Carrie Trenholm’s office at Southern Utah University, you cannot help but notice the brightly colored glass and ceramic pieces that adorn her shelves and desk. There is a crisp, creative energy in the air. Carrie is the Endowed Chair and Assistant Professor of Elementary Arts Education at Southern Utah University, and has received the Governor’s Education Leadership in the Arts Award for 2015.
A brief biography of this inspiring, creative woman: Trenholm attended Utah State University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in illustration before moving to Cedar City, where she earned her Arts Education license from Southern Utah University. After earning her license, she taught visual arts at the middle school level for 12 years, and fine arts at the high school level for nine. She then earned her master’s degree in education, and took a job as a faculty member at Southern Utah University, becoming the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Endowed Chair of Elementary Arts Education.
The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Education program works with many elementary students, teaching them the importance of creativity, decision making, and problem solving. It also offers workshops and arts integration courses for elementary educators, including those studying the subject at SUU. Some of Trenholm’s students had the opportunity to teach lessons that they designed to students throughout Utah, teaching different concepts through various avenues of artistic expression. In order to more fully immerse herself in the arts education program, Trenholm learned dance, music, and theater, exploring how these forms of expression interact with other visual arts.
Trenholm’s interest in education began at home. Many of the people in her family were educators, and after graduating with a degree in commercial art, she was inspired to become a teacher. She has had a rich career working with students and artists. She says, “I think what is so fabulous is seeing the impact afterwards, like if I see two and three years later that teachers are still using and adapting what they’ve learned. Sometimes they’ll send a photograph to show what their kids are doing, that, to me, is fabulous. It has made a difference. Not that they’ve just attended and learned something, but that they’ve figured out how to have that change in their classrooms. That, I love.”
Trenholm spent many years building friendships with other endowed chairs across Utah, expanding the program throughout the entire state. When she began, the program had 15 specialists. Today, there are more than 130. During her career, Trenholm also spent four years as co-chair of the Utah Art Education Association, along with Arlene Braithwaite, and they worked closely with the Utah Arts Council and the State Office of Education. Trenholm cherishes the opportunity she had to work in person with Beverley Taylor Sorenson, and has pictures of them together on her desk, next to a large, colorful piece of fused glass.
While Trenholm’s adventures in glass fusing began in 2000, the medium of glass was not unfamiliar territory to her. Her father created stained-glass windows for a Lutheran church, so Trenholm grew up familiar with the processes of cutting and working glass. One of the most influential moments for her artistic growth occurred when she went to Portland and took a workshop with a glass company named Bullseye. She bought a pack of glass, and fired it in a kiln at the high school where she worked, creating, through a process of trial and error, her first glass piece. It hangs in her office window.
Trenholm looks forward to refining her technique, and branching out into doing different styles of glass work, as well as having the opportunity to explore her art more fully. She says that “glass is fabulous. I love it. It’s just so enticing as a medium.” She has had to have an addition built onto her house for her new 1,600-pound kiln. “I’m excited. I want to go through the whole trial and error process, and learning. I want to start connecting with glass artists and just find out what’s going on. I’m ready to dive into it.”