I may have mentioned a time or two that I have been creating art for a very long time. Approximately 25 years. It is a passion that bloomed early and has lasted a lifetime. However, it has only been the last 3 years that I have done it “professionally”. For the longest time it was really just a dedicated hobby.
As a hobbyist, I explored every medium available to me. Acrylic, watercolor, pastel, permanent marker, pen and ink, and of course charcoal. Nothing really stuck around that long except for pen and ink and charcoal. The two most opposite materials a person could really work with. Pen and ink is unforgiving, each line and stroke is permanent, the gradient for shading is an intricate addition of strokes each one as solid as the one before. Charcoal is fluid, natural and stretches as far as you can spread. By it’s very nature, it is impermanent and the slightest brush could remove the gradient and place it somewhere else. For 10 long years I preferred the pen. That said, it is not my chosen medium for my career.
So why charcoal? Aside from the obvious ease of use, I didn’t really have an answer. It took quite a lot of soul searching to realize that my love affair with charcoal started in the 9th grade during my very first figure drawing class in 2006.
Mr. Weisner (hope I am spelling that right) was the only art teacher in my high school of 200 hundred kids. To say that I came from a small town is a bit of an understatement. Mr. Weisner had a long ponytail, an amazing handlebar mustache, and wore glasses that were barely bigger than the shape of his eyes. He was a tall spry man with an eccentric energy that all the kids (even the rebels) respected. It could have been because if you disrupted his class he would either pelt you in the back of the head with an eraser or he would lightly choke you. This was back when everything wasn’t interpreted as being “offensive” and when teachers actually taught the subject on the syllabus.
Mr. Weisner detested pencils for beginners in his figure drawing class because he felt it was too easy to “overwork your lines” so our medium was charcoal. More specifically, it was Willow charcoal which comes in long thin sticks and breaks almost upon contact. Each day we shuffled into class and were handed a printed out image of a figure (usually a woman on a bed or posing by a window) that we had to fully render by the end of class on an “18×24” piece of newsprint sketch paper. Mr. Weisner did not fuck around when it came to art.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about the techniques that he taught us, and believe me he taught us everything. More what I remember is sitting on my little wooden bench furiously moving the charcoal around to make shapes and perspective, I remember the silence in the classroom, and Mr. Wiesner’s soft footsteps when he made his rounds to check our progress. He gave no quarter and expected the best from absolutely everyone regardless of age and previous experience. He never compared one student to another, but rather focused on making each person the best they could be in comparison to themselves.
“When you want to draw a line, draw it like you mean it” –Mr. Weisner
He was one hell of a teacher. Looking back, I realize that he gave me all the proper tools to hone my skills and to get to where I am now as an artist. It’s funny to think that the biggest part of my foundation as an artist came from a room that could barely fit 10 students in town of less than 3000 people. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize just how lucky I was to have a teacher like him.
It is so fascinating to me how strongly the future is rooted in the past. While the past does not dictate your direction in life, it certainly has a heavy hand in shaping it. I haven’t thought about my time high school in over 10 years and here I am writing this article about my high school art teacher because someone asked me last week why charcoal?