Posts Tagged ‘charcoal’


Painting Started: Jan Sunning on the Grass

May 7, 2017

I’m ready to get the painting started. Before I transferred the large sketch, I paused to consider how best to continue. This will be a gouache painting on illustration board primed with a thin coat of spackle plaster mixed with acrylic medium.

I made the outline of the figure in charcoal to the bare board (unprimed,) and wondered if I should spray fixative on it as I planned or test out other options. The lines of the beach towel were drawn with a yellow pastel pencil that I darkened in the picture so you can see it better. One idea was to just paint over this with a thin layer of plaster and acrylic (as I tested out in my previous post,) or spray fixative on it and then prime it, or coat the charcoal lines with a thin coat of acrylic and prime it. With the primer on top, the gouache will not mix with the charcoal.

I made a quick test of those three options on a scrap piece of illustration board. The “X”s in the picture are charcoal marks not coated, so you can see how thin the plaster layer is.

The unfixed charcoal smeared a little, but was otherwise okay. The fixed marks (one coat of spray) looked the same, but no smearing. The wet acrylic medium turned the charcoal into a wash, so I ruled that out. I decided to just go ahead and add the thin plaster layer without fixing the charcoal, saving an extra step, and despite a little smearing, it looked okay. I’m finally ready to start painting.


Homemade Casein Fixative

October 27, 2016

I’ve been meaning to make fixative out of casein for some time now, but until recently I haven’t done much art in a medium that need it. Today, I was in a conversation with an online friend about types of fixatives, and this subject came up, so I thought it was a good time to make some and test it out. Conclusion: it works very well.


If you’re possibly new to the term “fixative” and its use, it’s a coating that is added on top of dry media (charcoal, pastels, graphite, etc.) to keep it from smearing. Most commercial fixatives come in aerosol cans that use an acrylic resin. There’s a commercial brand of casein fixative on the market called SpectraFix. I’ve tried it, and it works okay; although, I’m not too fond of their pump sprayer.

I first heard of using casein as a fixative in a book about Paul Gauguin and his pastels where he learned this technique from Camille Pissarro. I later found a recipe for it in the Reed Kay book “The Painter’s Guide to Studio Methods and Materials.”
1 part by volume casein solution
2 parts by volume grain alcohol
5 parts by volume (distilled) water

The casein solution I used is the same as I always make for a base medium to start from. I describe it here in my most recent batch I made back in April. It has a couple drops of Thymol preservative in an 8 ounce mixture. It’s very easy to make. This batch came from raw milk, but it can also be made from dry casein powder, which I’ve talked about before. The grain alcohol I’m using is Everclear, which is 190 proof. A good clear Vodka could also work.

Mixing it was simple enough, so to apply it I used the Preval sprayer I wrote about a few years ago. I’ve used it occasionally for spraying primers and it works great. I found that the spray comes out with a little more force and volume than most aerosol cans I’ve used. As such, I knew to step back about 2 feet with the art surface upright, and move across the art in a quick sweeping motion; starting the spray off the art and finishing off the art.



The plastic sheet above has the fixative on it, and the sheet below it has none, so you can see how it turns the plastic very dull. When sprayed on paper, even black paper, I don’t see anything. Held up to the light, I can’t see any reflections. Each coat dries very quickly, under 10 minutes. When soft pastels were sprayed with two coats, I didn’t get any smearing.


At first, I got worried when I sprayed the grey pastels above. The whole image almost disappeared, but it came back as the fixative dried. It lost a little of it’s brightness, but otherwise worked fine. On the white paper sample, the color pastels didn’t seem to change value at all. It also works well on soft graphite pencils and charcoal.

I would have no concerns using this fixative on my finished work. I could also layer it; although, I would be reluctant to build it up too much – 3 to 4 coats max. The water content could cause paper to buckle, especially thin paper, unless it was stretched or taped down before the drawing was started.


New Drawing: SPF-30

August 15, 2016

This is a charcoal drawing (charcoal pencil) of my friend, Elizabeth, applying some sunscreen spray. She wouldn’t need it today, with all the rain we’re getting. Paper size is 24 x 18 inches.


It was done at a figure drawing session I participated in recently. I always prefer the model to be doing some sort of action other than just posing. I may make this into a more complete drawing once I figure out a good background for her.


New Painting Started: Javier’s Accordion

October 21, 2015

I’ve decided to attempt making a painting out of the drawing I posted a few days ago. It’s of my friend Javier playing his accordion.


I enlarged the drawing to a large sheet of newsprint, 18 x 24″, rubbed some charcoal on the back, and transferred that to a sheet of illustration board that I had coated with gesso.


Next, I drew over those charcoal lines with thinned black ink, and covered the surface with an ink wash to give me a neutral tone to start the painting on. I plan on painting over this with gouache.


New Drawing Started: Cowgirl at the Park

August 12, 2015


This may be hard for you to see at this stage. I’ve roughed in an outline of the figure on illustration board using charcoal. I haven’t completely decided yet what medium to go with. Originally I was thinking it would be ink, but now I’m leaning towards charcoal. I’ll sleep on it and decide by tomorrow… probably.


Homemade Charcoal Oil Pastel

May 6, 2015

Following up on my last post, I’ve made another oil and wax pastel, but this time I added charcoal powder. Now I can combine this with a pencil drawing without having to add charcoal in a separate step.

oilpastel_charcoal1 oilpastel_charcoal2

That pile of charcoal powder is about 2 ounces. I melted some beeswax and added mineral oil as in my previous post, and mixed it in with the charcoal until I had a firm paste.

oilpastel_charcoal3 oilpastel_charcoal4
I then pressed the mixture into a square mold I made out of aluminum foil. After it cooled, I removed it from the foil, and drew a test area on some drawing paper. I could easily smear the charcoal with a rubber-tipped colour shaper tool; although, not very far, or scratch through it with a penknife.


Painting Update: Lake Salvador

September 16, 2014

I managed to get to the painting I had started a few days ago. Yesterday I pulled out a full sheet of illustration board to use as my painting surface, and then prepared to tone the white down with a wash of gouache.


Seeing that I didn’t have enough yellow paint on hand, I mixed up some of my own from some pigment I had, PY 159 (Zirconium Yellow.) I added that to a few drops of of Turner’s Red Violet to give me a sort of yellow ochre tone.

salvadorlake3 salvadorlake4

I printed out my photo to scale (18×24″,) and taped the sheets together in order to transfer the image to the surface. I rubbed some charcoal on the back, and drew the outlines that I needed for reference.


I will be painting the shapes with a slightly darker shade, and start to set the values in the next phase of the painting.