An artist’s materials are an extension of him/her. They are the bridge that link the first creative impulse to the final work of art. Naturally, that is why artists can be very discerning about the supplies they use. I have spent years researching art materials and creating my own in order to reproduce the effects that I see in the Old Masters and, more importantly, enrich my own work.
Charcoal is one of the oldest drawing mediums still commonly used today. It is ideal for tonal drawing. Produced by pyrolysis, it is created by heating up wood in the absence of oxygen.
I make my own with a steel box that I designed especially for the purpose. After cutting select wood into a stick form, the pieces are placed in the box and closed. An single opening on the top allows the gas to escape. The box is heated up and eventually smoke comes out. The white smoke is largely water vapor and other some other substances. Eventually the smoke diminishes, stops and is replaced by a flame that is produced by different essences being expelled. Once the flame dies out, the charcoal is ready!
My friend and artist Darren Rousar also wrote an article on making charcoal and it can be found here.
I also have taught an artisan in Southern, Italy my method and he is now creating a small quantities for a commercial market. He uses reclaimed wood and selects the best pieces to for his production. The result is very high quality charcoal with a minimum environmental impact. If anyone is interested in trying some, please contact me.