Monday, 21 November 2011


Eye Balloon
My last post talked about the use of the eraser as a "drawing tool", and my research brought me "back" to the work of Odilon Redon (1840-1916).  I say "back" because when I was introduced to pastels many years ago, I discovered Redon's pastels and loved them, but somehow they slipped away from me in the mists of time. Last week, while looking at fixatives and erasers, Redon's "Noirs" came into focus. I had not come across these monochrome images before - they are wierdly disturbing, apparently influenced by the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Redon's aim, apparently, was to represent the ghosts of his own mind.  His early years were unhappy ones and these images, I believe, reflect that torment.

Spirit of the forest 1880
 Redon used a combination of vine and oiled charcoal, with touches of compressed charcoal, together with a fabricated black chalk, a much harder and blacker medium than charcoal.   Oiled charcoal figures prominently in his "Noirs".  He probably made this oiled charcoal himself, by soaking pieces of vine charcoal in linseed oil.  For centuries, oiled charcoal was valued for its ability to adhere readily to paper fibres, unlike regular charcoal, which leaves particles on the surface, very vulnerable to smudging. I intend to try this and see how it works - maybe you might also like to try. 

Redon would often prepare the paper with an overall base of powdered charcoal.  His first step then was to produce a modulated tone, from which he could "extract" forms, exactly as I showed you in my previous post.  He also used charcoal on its side for broad strokes, and wetted a rounded stick with a pointed tip for linear work.  He would use fixative as he worked, and would incise into the fixed areas with a pointed tool,  scrape with a hard-bristled brush, and would lift media with a sponge or fingers.  His fingerprints are often to be seen in the background of his images.

Tree, 1875
In a nutshell, he selectively manipulated and even removed drawing materials, to achieve the final result. 

 The underlying paper would often be exposed, and became an integral part of the image...its tone adding to the end result.  Golden-toned papers have come to be accepted as those he preferred for his "Noirs" ...but this could be a misconception.  Research has shown that the colour of the paper we see today is the result of several conditions - 1) the application of fixative which darkened the sheets, 2) the exposure of the paper to light and 3) the instability of the dyes used in the manufacture of the papers.  He did, in fact, choose his papers in a variety of tones, sometimes using mottled papers, in which red, blue and multi-coloured fibres are visible.  He has stated that all his "Noirs" were made on papers usually of yellow, pink or blue.   He would have known that the resins used in fixative at that time would become yellow-golden as they aged, and analysis of fixative taken from the "Noirs" reveals that he probably used balsam resins, diluted with alcohol. 

More info if your interest has been roused:

My last post discussed the use of the eraser as a drawing tool.  I hope you will be able to see, from these rather extraordinary images,  how useful this concept may be, and how it could extend your own repertoire of mark-making. 

At a later date, I will introduce the colourist Redon to you.  The background is fascinating and demonstrates how life's experiences can impact on the work of an artist.  After a religious crisis in the early 1890's, and a serious illness in 1894-5, his personality drastically altered, he became a more cheerful and exuberant man, who was able then to express himself in radiant colour!

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