Thursday, March 17, 2011

On sanguine, charcoal and chalk drawing

A Watteau from the National Gallery of Scotland

Dearest Stapleton;
Yesterday I visited a wonderful exhibition of drawings by Watteau at the Royal Academy. The amazing thing is that all these drawings were done with just three colours of chalk, sanguine, white and black, with only a very limited use of graphite is some of his last drawings. However though I have looked in various art suppliers catalogues, I cannot find any chalks for sale. Can you advise me as to what material Watteau and other artists actually used.
I must say how much I enjoy your blog. It is so informative.

Ms. Trixie Pantalot

Oh! Trixie!

Well lets start with the charcoal, I like the Winsor and Newton vine charcoal. I think that which is graded hard the best. The important thing is it must be real charcoal and not a compressed charcoal. The compressed contains wax or other binders to hold it together that affect it's working quality and make it difficult if not impossible to erase. Here is a post I wrote about using charcoal.

Sanguine is a naturally occurring chalk that has a brown-red tone. Conte makes sanguine sticks in various species, here is a link to them ( this link is to Jerrys Artarama and probably other places have the same thing). I believe they are compressed and probably contain some wax, but they work well and I have used them successfully. There may be a boutique maker out there making real organic sanguine sticks from natural deposits, but I don't know of one. Conte even makes a shade called Watteau, that sounds like it ought to work! Lastly, at the bottom of the page are white sticks too, I have used ordinary chalk and that works as well.

You also need to get a proper paper to do this. I can think of three possible choices. The first is ordinary brown"butchers" paper. It comes on a roll and is very inexpensive. It has a nice tone to work on if you are highlighting in white chalk. This is useful for studies for paintings more than for making finished work. Drawings on brown paper can look very nice but are less permanent than my next two suggestions.

Mt first suggestion would be a quality charcoal paper, which usually comes in a package of about 25 sheets. I have always liked the Canson Ingres paper best. It has little raised lines on it because it is chain laid and that gives it a pleasing texture. I believe in the olden days it was sometimes called cartridge paper. Strathmore makes a nice charcoal paper too. Remember if you are highlighting in white chalk you want a toned paper. Gray, buff, blue,tan, there are lots of varieties and you will have to decide what you like best.

The last alternative is pastel paper. That comes in a zillion different weights and colors. I think for this particular type of drawing you wouldn't want the sort that is sanded. Sanded paper is almost like sandpaper it has a fine grit on it's surface.

Watch out for that white chalk by the way, do that last as it doesn't erase well and if it gets mixed with the charcoal it gives an unpleasant opaque gray that will look different than the rest of your drawing, so try to keep the two separate. You will need a couple of kneaded erasers too. I think it best not to spray drawings with fixative as it kills the look of them a little. Sometimes you must, but it sacrifices something of the tonal quality that comes naturally to charcoal and other dry mediums.


Unknown said...

Oh, so THAT's where the name of that color came from....

Ramon said...

Those drawings are awesome Stape! I'm a big fan of Watteau.

bvpainter said...

Thanks for the information. I've had some Conte Crayons for years but never used them.

JonInFrance said...

I've been trying out this technique (at my basic level) using Maughans's book "Drawing the Head" (onlty 2 color "chalk") and Robe Liberace's DVD "Drawing the portrait in 3 color chalk".

The former uses Schwan carbothello pastel pencils on strathmore velvet gray charcoal paper and the seond verithin colored pencils on watercolor tinted paper.

billspaintingmn said...

I get brown & white paper in 9" rolls, 4 feet wide. Perfect for drawing.
I used to do a lot of sign painting with this paper. The kids could have art projects, and it's a nice wrapping paper too!
There is something earthy about useing those three mediums together on paper. Although it smudges easly, so for me it's idea matereal mostly.

a Nantucket blog. said...

So informative! said...

I've been fighting a flu thing with only energy to do what needs to get done, so I am behind here.

Thinking about what you said about some art historians who attribute flattening in painting to the introduction of photography.

It is my understanding that the lighting used to photograph is what flattened the image. So is it possible that Ingres was lighting his models with strong artificial lighting before it was done for photography?

Stapleton Kearns said...

It is also one of the four humors.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Watteau was a great draftsman, there were so many in those days.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There you go!

Stapleton Kearns said...

OK but I like the sticks better, pencils have a whole different schtick.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have been known to use the brown paper with shellac on it to paint on.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hey, thanks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't think there was a light that would do that in those days. He didn't need anything more than studio light because he could make it look any way he wanted. He didn't actually have to see it to draw it.

sari said...

There cardstock papers that are acid free, lignin free and archival. All.

I tried a number of brands of sanguine sketch pencil on them and got beautiful results. I could blend, smooth, erase multiple times...

These cardstock papers come in awesome colors like kraft/brown bag, cream colors, and so on.

One may find them from sources that supply scrapbookers rather than places that supply artists.

I resorted to them because I couldn't find the colors I wanted in suitable artists a brown bag color, for starters.

Venantius said...

Stape, order the chalks from Zecchi Colori. Talk to Massimo Zecchi.