Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

New finished piece – Pietro

If you want to learn to paint, you should learn to use charcoal first.

There are two ways of using charcoal. One is as a pigment, and one is as a paint. If you use it as a pigment you have a big black pencil that makes bold lines. If you use it as a paint, you have a black dust that can be used to create gradated greys and blacks. This is useful when you are learning to paint; establishing the tone of the piece is a key matter in the art. There are many techniques in which you start with a grey or green picture of what you want to paint, and add in lots of colour. Charcoal is a preparation for this.

When you have a big bit of paper, you can manage small detail more easily, and with fewer precision tools.

Picture of charcoal head, attached to canvas and with measuring stick. This is Pietro. He was a Florentine nobleman or merchant, rich enough to have a life cast made. The cast was copied, and I made a portrait from a copy. If you know a better verb than ‘make’ here, please say so in the comments. Tonal charcoal is not painting and is not drawing, and so I am stuck between the two.

Pietro is two feet tall. The T-square next to him is 85cm long, for comparison. His face is over a foot, and he needs at least three inches of white matt board around him, before getting to the frame, or else he will overwhelm anything around him. You can see the effect here with the T-square on the left and the empty, rather soothing space on the right. I am likely to have to frame him before I sell him, which adds significantly to the price, as he needs a glass cover. Were he oil paint on canvas I would be ahead of the game, because he would be far more resilient.

For those who want to see the work closer, here is just Pietro, without frame:

Picture of charcoal head of severe man with large nose Click on the picture for the largest version, and please leave comments below.