I was baffled, the first time an art teacher handed me a piece of charcoal. A quiet child who compulsively inked animals on inappropriate surfaces (inside textbooks, on school desks, on walls, on the arms of giggling classmates), I had been enrolled in a Saturday class in hopes that it would channel the drawing urge.
Our subject was an uninspiring bowl of oranges — in retrospect, probably not a wise choice for a classroom full of energetic nine-year-olds. My brittle black stick of vine charcoal snapped in half and peppered the paper with a galaxy of specks and smudges. After a few minutes, I abandoned the still life assignment and sketched a herd of prehistoric horses I had seen in a book on cave paintings. Dark smudged heads and bodies fading to pale bellies, slender galloping legs. The teacher did not approve.
I did not return on the following Saturday, and for the next 51 years I had little interest in drawing with charcoal… until I met the carbon pencil a few weeks ago, and immediately fell in love.
A blend of lamp black and clay, the carbon pencil is harder than traditional charcoal. It produces a deliciously deep, flat black with none of the annoying shine that graphite can leave on the paper. The carbon pencil has a lot to teach me about drawing… and none of it involves a bowl of oranges.