The making of 'Blackator Copse and the East Okement River' - a charcoal drawing

Publication date: 21 May 2023

'Blackator Copse and the East Okement River'
Charcoal drawing - 64x43cm - May 2023.

This work is for sale (please contact for price) and will be on view at the Paradiso Gallery in Bovey Tracey, Devon, throughout June 2023 - more information here).

This drawing took me over 150 hours to complete.

I draw with charcoal pencils made by a company called General's. These pencils bring their own set of challenges and qualities. For instance, it's quite common to discover tiny grit-like elements in the 'lead' which either make an unexpected scratchy line, or no mark at all! I usually have about 20 pencils in use at the same time - so I don't have to be constantly stopping to sharpen them - in fact, the process of sharpening all twenty when needed is quite meditative in its own way. Charcoal provides dense blacks (blacker than you can achieve with the softest graphite pencil) while also allowing fine line work, and the application of charcoal dust (applied with a soft brush (used here for the sky) has its own unique quality.

I work on a smooth 300gsm Heritage Rag white unbuffered paper which I buy from John Purcell Paper, who are located here in the United Kingdom - this is the same paper i use for my printmaking.

The images below are in chronological order, with the finished drawing at the bottom of the page - you can click each image to enlarge it.

While I'm not aiming for photo-realism, it is important to me that what I draw is believable - so, as far as I can, I try to avoid any shortfall in relation to tone, texture, line, perspective, light or concept - the viewer may be fully aware that the drawing is a realisation of a scene that has emerged from a human mind via a human hand, but I still want to give a sense that it might be possible to step into the scene).

I referenced plein-air drawings that I made on location, as well as photographs that I took at the same time. But, in addition, this drawing contains a lot of imagined elements (from the patterns on the boulders, the votive artifacts on the river bed to the moon and the light it casts across the scene .

Blackator Copse is one of three high-altitude ancient oakwoods on Dartmoor (the other two are Wistman's Wood and Piles Copse). This drawing is an imagining of the location - an attempt to capture something of its uncanny presence in a landscape that is haunted by the ghosts of the people who have live here since neolithic times, and the energies that have surrounded and inspired such people in their own creative, ceremonial and domestic projects and activities.

My aim with this drawing, as with the others in my series of drawings I call 'Intimate Geography' (click here for more on this series), is to connect with, and represent the spirit of, a location - to find a way to respond to the raw energy of a wild place. In the Spanish dance flamenco, the dancer attempts to connect to a force they call 'Duende'. It is that energy and connection tha interests me.

In a blog article posted in 2014, Jules Evans puts it very well:

I’m reading Hirsch’  'The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artisitic Inspiration'. It was itself inspired by Hirsch’s reading of a famous essay by the Spanish poet Fredericao Garcia Lorca about the Spanish notion of duende.

Duende, as far as I understand it, means those moments in artistic activity when something else takes over, when something speaks through you. It’s similar to the Muse or the angel, but these things come from some lofty height, while duende rises up from the chthonic depths, from the body and the groin, from the darkness, from death itself. The word comes from duen de casa, ‘Lord of the house’, meaning a sort of daemon or local spirit.

Above: Charcoal dust dry-painted for the base tone of the sky
Above: the finished drawing
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