Monday, December 10, 2007


Buddhist quote Calligraphy by Brenda
Among all the drawing media available, charcoal is one of the most essential and basic. Here's a short history 'story ' from the mid 20th century about this versatile drawing material...

'Charcoal is an ancient drawing material, but Britain's main supplier - PH Coate's - has only been producing it for just over 40 years, and only because of accident. Or rather because of 2 accidents, the first one being a slipped disk, then the late Percy Coate fell over one autumn day in the mid-1950s. He spent 2 months lying on the floor, as weak as his own wicker and worrying about money. Once upon a time willow was good business-it was the bubble wrap of its time, and almost every merchant ship leaving Liverpool or London had its valuables secured in wicker hampers. The Coate's family chose this as their crop in Somerset England where willows grow easily.

While lighting a fire one day, Percy found a burned willow and he started to draw with it. Fascinated by the possibilities, he spent the rest of his convalescence experimenting by roasting little bits of willow in biscuit tins. In his Craftsman's Handbook, Cennino Cennini had advised 14th century charcoal makers to tie up the willow sticks in bunches, put them in a new airtight casserole, "then go to the baker's in the evening, after he has stopped work, and put this casserole in the oven; let it stay there until morning and see whether these coals are well roasted and good and black."

Artists' charcoal is tricky to make, it has to be charred uniformly right through in order for the artist to draw a consistent black. Percy got it right, and today there is scarcely a classroom in Britain with out its box of PH Coate's charcoal.' (Victoria Finlay)

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