Charcoal and soft pastels are addictive.
Admittedly they are not in the class-A drug category of heroin or cocaine and there doesn’t need to be a government health warning about them, but there is something about their versatility that makes them so appealing.
For the artist, charcoal and soft pastels are extremely satisfying to use; both are capable of tonal shading, dramatic highlighting, blending, smudging and sharp, dark and intense lines. They are also cheap and easy to use and once you’ve used them a few times, then it is hard to go back to other materials like sketching pencils, watercolours or oils, which can often be more restrictive or time-consuming.
These two media allow for a speedy spontaneous response, combining bold and heavy lines with soft and subtle shading. And because soft pastels are almost pure pigment, they produce an intense colour that most other media can’t match.
In my own pictures I love juxtaposing the bright blocks of colour with the sharp bold lines of the willow charcoal stick.
Here are three sketches I did over the last couple of days using soft pastels and charcoal. The images are inspired by smaller sketches in my East African sketchbooks.