Charcoals are often used by artists for their versatile properties such as the rough texture that leaves marks less permanent than other art media. It can produce lines that are very light or intensely black while being easily removable and vulnerable to leave stains on paper. The dry medium can be applied to almost any surface from smooth to a very coarse. Fixatives are often used with charcoal drawings to solidify the positions to prevent erasing or rubbing off of charcoal dusts
Creating art is not easy for everybody. Many of us don’t have the patience or the passion to consider such a field an option. Aysha Maryam Cassim on the other hand is one artist who is passionate, interested and cares about her work.
Unlike the mainstream mediums used in arts, Aysha uses charcoal as her preferred medium.
“I made my first forays into this medium in 2014,” said Aysha, speaking to the Nation.
“I purchased a Marie’s charcoal pencil out of curiosity. The first few strokes and blends impressed me. Without any prior knowledge, I managed to figure out and master some of the charcoal techniques. Yes, I have dabbled in pastels, paints and watercolours and I have failed terribly. Charcoal is the only medium that appealed to my nimble fingers.”
Aysha’s foray into the world of arts began as a hobby at first, until it expanded into an enterprise.
“It started off as a hobby, three years ago. But now I have my own page called CalliQ as a gallery and business. I mainly do portrait commissions, fan art and calligraphy,” said Aysha.
How charcoal is used in art?
Art charcoal is a form of dry art medium made of finely ground organic materials that are held together by a gum or wax binder; which can also be produced without the use of binders by eliminating the oxygen inside the material during the production process.
According to Aysha, charcoal is her preferred medium due to affordability and the fact that it is easier to manipulate.
“Charcoal gets the best out of my skills. It’s dry, dusty and messy. But that’s an affordable medium which I find easy to manipulate,” she said. “I love the grainy texture of the final strokes that let me experiment with a wide tonal range from grey to the deepest of blacks.”
Charcoals are often used by artists for their versatile properties such as the rough texture that leaves marks less permanent than other art media. It can produce lines that are very light or intensely black while being easily removable and vulnerable to leave stains on paper. The dry medium can be applied to almost any surface from smooth to a very coarse. Fixatives are often used with charcoal drawings to solidify the positions to prevent erasing or rubbing off of charcoal dusts.
The method to create artists’ charcoal is much similar to that of charcoal used throughout different types of fields such as producing gunpowder and cooking fuel. Therefore the type of wood material and preparation method allows different variation of charcoal to be produced.
“I mainly use Derwent and Marie’s charcoal pencils along with charcoal blocks, sticks and powder ash,” Aysha revealed.
Unlike pencil drawings, erasing a charcoal drawing that might have gone wrong seems almost impossible. However, Aysha finds the eraser the most fascinating of using the medium.
“The best thing about charcoal drawing is the kneaded eraser. It looks like Silly Putty. Not only does it erase the charcoal pigment but you can bend and stretch this pliable material to highlight the strokes. It doesn’t leave any residue and works perfectly well with mediums like graphite and pastel as well,” she says.
Charcoal and colour
When someone says ‘charcoal’ we easily think of shades like black and grey. However, Aysha’s portraits are often in colour.
“For portraits I use mixed-media. The layout sketch is done with willow sticks and charcoal powder. Then I use Derwent compressed tinted and black charcoal pencils for a crisp contrasting, 3D effect,” she said. “Smudging the charcoal with fingers, paper stump or a cotton bud allows for softer, smoother look. I use the kneaded eraser for fine details. In order to lock the charcoal in place, I opt for a fixative like an acetone aerosol spray to lock the medium in place. This has to be done carefully to solidify the medium to prevent erasing or rubbing off of charcoal dust.”
Aysha has also dabbled in natural charcoal. But she only uses willow and vine sticks as a natural charcoal medium.
“As opposed to compressed charcoal pencils, which are made with clay, gum and wax, the broad, unrefined texture of natural charcoal can be difficult to get sweeping strokes in your drawing. They are not easy to sharpen and are extremely fragile,” Aysha contends.
A natural tool
Unlike other petroleum based art equipment, Aysha uses charcoal which is natural. When asked what her views are with regard to the sustainability of her artistry, she said: “I want to see myself grow to an earth-friendly artist. The transition is not going to be easy but every little bit helps.
“I don’t have my own studio yet. But I always try to keep my materials and toxins to a bare minimum. I have considered using a plant-based solvent instead of a chemical fixative such as Acetone. I use recycled brown papers (that were used to wrap furniture) as canvases and all my brush and pen holders are up-cycled cans. Natural daylight in my study helps me to focus better. Instead of an easel, I have a custom-made, sturdy MDF board and a versatile file holder.”
Aysha was born-talented but what drove her to pursue a passion in the arts was her brother.
“Even though I believe that I was born with a knack for drawing, I was never a good painter. My brother is the person who inspired me to draw. But talent atrophies when not used. I discovered charcoal in my 20s and I started to embrace my once dormant passion for art again. If you have a flair for improvisation, you can go to extreme lengths with passion and practice,” she said.
On a final note, Aysha had some words of wisdom on time management and advice for those who wish to pursue the arts.
“I am a freelancer who works from home. But when I have a break, away from the screen, I resort to something meditative. Be it photography, calligraphy or charcoal. When I finally get my creative groove on, I keep sketching with a stimulus like music. I find the whole process of art therapeutic,” she says.
“For those who have a passion in the arts, I’d like to say keep practising. Find the medium that suits you best. Every artist is a perfectionist. If you don’t find a flaw in your previous sketch, you are not improving. Compare yourself with maestros in the industry. I always look up to Casey Baugh. He is a charcoal virtuoso. Every time I see the way he sketches, I am mesmerised. I have come a long way but I have a long way to go.”