Last year, as part of our Artist @ Home series, we collaborated with local artist Chen Yanyun to create an online resource for parents and children to start off their journey at home with a super messy (but very fun) medium - charcoal! Let us tell you why charcoal is a great medium to draw with.
Back in 2020, our team partnered with Cush Cush Gallery in Bali to create a collaborative artwork with local Balinese students, using charcoal that was made and fired during the workshop. They used local trees as well as a mango tree branch to create their own charcoal! It was a very inspiring and eye-opening experience that is rare in Singapore and we definitely enjoyed the process. (Take a look at our Bali experience below!) Fast forward two years later to 2022, working with Yanyun to create a charcoal tutorial series made it a well rounded experience for us.
So what is charcoal?
We are all familiar with our yearly family gatherings around the BBQ pits, loading up charcoal for a delicious grill. But have you tried drawing with it? Just kidding! Although similar, there are a few types of charcoal for drawing - mainly vine, willow or compressed charcoal. Charcoal is derived from burning wood, specifically grape vines, willow branches and others. When used during drawing, these burnt wood creates dark marks that can be easily smudged to create different shades and tones on your paper.
Charcoal will give you a very different mark or texture on your paper than pencil or any dry medium will. It is very versatile, it can be used purely as a dry medium or mixed with water and use it as a wet medium. That's what our video tutorials with Yanyun share.
What kind of charcoal should I use?
Different types of charcoal produces different marks. Vine & willow charcoal is easily spread or smudged on the paper and also easily erased. Compressed charcoal will give you a darker mark and will come in a thicker stick. Unsure where to start or what to buy? This is where our Charcoal Starter Kits come in! We realised parents may not necessarily know which type of charcoal to buy or start with - hence we created this starter kit to have the tools and kits you need to begin your exploration with charcoal.
What do I need to begin exploring with Charcoal?
Here are some of the tools you would want when you're first exploring charcoal.
What’s in your kit?
Charcoal of different sizes (willow and compressed charcoal of different sizes)
Paper of different textures
1 Fan brush
You can also follow along our 3-part youtube tutorial by local artist Yanyun!
We partnered with SingaPrinting to create our colourful matte paper sticker and branding for our Charcoal Starter Kit - something that we always wanted to try out at Art Wonderland. SingaPrinting's website is amazingly organised and easy to navigate, not to mention their stickers have lots of customisations options available to meet your branding needs. There are plenty of sizes, finishes and types of sticker papers to choose from! Bonus - they're very quick and deliver straight to your doorstep!
Why do we love charcoal?
Charcoal has been used for thousands of years, and dates back as old as cave drawings!
Charcoal is also great for beginner and advanced artists. Although charcoal does not have colour, it can create various tonal values (light, mid and dark tones) and you can also use it in a variety of different ways (dry and wet)!
With one stick of charcoal, you can create different types of lines. You can create very thin lines as well as big chunky lines - with just 1 stick!
What can you try when you receive your first Charcoal Starter Kit?
Firstly, you can break your charcoal into two to have a smaller piece that is easier to draw with. Careful not to snap it into too many pieces. If your charcoal snaps into many pieces, put them into a container and pound them up into a powder that you can use (watch tutorial #2).
Try to create different thickness of lines with 1 stick of charcoal. You can create thin lines by holding your charcoal upright. You can create thick lines by placing your charcoal flat on the paper.
Try using your finger and fan brush to smudge the lines and see the effect you can achieve.
Try to use different strengths to achieve a lighter line and a darker line.
Find Yanyun's videos here and follow along at home!
Tutorial #1 - Learn gestural drawing with charcoal
Tutorial #2 - Learn to create light and shadow with charcoal
Tutorial #3 - Learn to use charcoal in different ways
This kit is available on our shop at $25 - so get started with charcoal, it makes a fun family activity over the festive period!
Artist @ Home is a new art series by Art Wonderland, with aims to bridge the gap between local artists and children through art experiences, workshops, digital content and more. Visit artwonderland.sg/resources for free printables and art resources.
About the Artist
Yanyun is a visual artist based in Singapore who uses charcoal a lot in her work. Her works reflects her interests in exploring stories that are related to our bodies. For example, certain marks or scars that we might be born with or have in common with our family members, like her keloid scar.
About Art Wonderland
With experience over a decade in the arts education industry in Singapore, Art Wonderland curates and designs engaging experiences and programmes that aim to engage the community through art education. Through site-specific installations and immersive programmes, Art Wonderland works with children as fellow collaborators, embracing their curious insight and perspective of the world as part of their creative process. Their art studio located in Bugis provides weekly art class for children, where they strive to nurture the next generation of independent learners, thinkers and artists.