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Thread: Charcoal drawing + water = indistinguishable smudge?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin captaincrow's Avatar
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    Charcoal drawing + water = indistinguishable smudge?

    So, let's say, one person would spontaneously decide to make a drawing. And because it's so spontaneous they would take an ordinary piece of charcoal from a fireplace and make said drawing on an ordinary piece of fabric--probably linen or some rather cheap fabric, nothing too fancy. And let's say that, afterwards, they'd fold that piece-of-fabric-made-drawing and keep it on their person, though, unfortunately, they'd get into a situation where they, including everything on them, including the folded-up drawing, gets soaked through and through with very cold salt water. What would happen to the drawing? If the person would let it dry and then unfold it, would it look like it did before?

    If not, what could the author do to preserve that drawing, keeping in mind that (1) the aforementioned person doesn't know yet that they'll get soaked through and through with very cold salt water, including the drawing, until the immediate occurrence of that event, and (2) the event in which said person gets soaked through and through with cold salt water is inevitable?

    Thanks in advance for any help!
    Currently working on the first draft of Blackbirds, aka FjordNovel. Historical Fantasy about witch boys on a Norwegian island in 1601. Also about some decent non-witches and some witch hunter assbutts. Contains a lot of gay and a substantial amount of angst.

  2. #2
    Resist. Love. Go outside. Marlys's Avatar
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    If today, there are spray-on fixatives, and I believe hairspray will do in a pinch. If for the 1601 WIP mentioned in your sig line, this might help:
    Quote Originally Posted by THE SHIFTING FUNCTION OF ARTISTS' FIXATIVES by Margaret Holben Ellis
    Beginning in at least the 16th century, if not before, traditional fixatives were composed of weak solutions of natural resins, such as dammar or shellac, various vegetable gums, fish glue, beer, casein, and countless homemade concoctions.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Raindrop's Avatar
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    Charcoal smudges if you look at it sideways. Folding the fabric and carrying it in a pocket would be enough to smudge the drawing beyond recognition. A shellac-based fixative would probably make it waterproof.
    If I could put all my typos together, I'd have enough material for a trilogy.

  4. #4
    Cat whisperer Mark HJ's Avatar
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    Wow - the things you learn here!
    I've made charcoal 17th Century style, but never used it as a writing/drawing medium.
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  5. #5
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    What Raindrop said.

    And yes, charcoal drawing is something you get in Drawing 101.

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  6. #6
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    Oh, and yes, hairspray works. Never used it on my hair, did use it on charcoal & pastel, etc.

    Blessings,

    Siri Kirpal
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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW neandermagnon's Avatar
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    Charcoal won't stay on most fabrics and I don't think fixative would make much difference because it's designed for use on paper. There are many different kinds of fabrics, it may stay longer on some but won't survive being folded up and dunked in water.

    I've always done chalk and charcoal drawings on paper, preferably dark coloured paper (makes the chalk highlights brighter). They don't rub off paper that easily - you can smudge it (to good effect) but it won't erase completely with your hands you'd and need to use a putty rubber*, however if you fold/scrunch up and drench the paper, the paper will become papier mache and won't survive, regardless of what pencil/pastel/charcoal/felt tip pen/crayon etc was used.

    *no idea what this would be called in American English. It's a kind of eraser made out of putty which may or may not be called the same thing in American English. It definitely isn't a condom though.

    The scientist in me wants to say "try it and see"... get some charcoal, write on an old rag with it, fold it up, dunk it in water and see what happens. We could all be completely wrong.
    Last edited by neandermagnon; 12-04-2017 at 11:33 PM.
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  8. #8
    Sophipygian AW Moderator Alessandra Kelley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by neandermagnon View Post
    Charcoal won't stay on most fabrics and I don't think fixative would make much difference because it's designed for use on paper. There are many different kinds of fabrics, it may stay longer on some but won't survive being folded up and dunked in water.

    I've always done chalk and charcoal drawings on paper, preferably dark coloured paper (makes the chalk highlights brighter). They don't rub off paper that easily - you can smudge it (to good effect) but it won't erase completely with your hands you'd and need to use a putty rubber*, however if you fold/scrunch up and drench the paper, the paper will become papier mache and won't survive, regardless of what pencil/pastel/charcoal/felt tip pen/crayon etc was used.

    *no idea what this would be called in American English. It's a kind of eraser made out of putty which may or may not be called the same thing in American English. It definitely isn't a condom though.

    The scientist in me wants to say "try it and see"... get some charcoal, write on an old rag with it, fold it up, dunk it in water and see what happens. We could all be completely wrong.
    That kind of eraser is called a “kneaded eraser” in the US. I routinely use them for fine pencil work.

    In art school we sometimes drew with “vine charcoal” which was made from chunks of grapevines.

    I disliked working with charcoal because it was very messy and very delicate and very difficult to fix on the paper.

    Charcoal acts like chalk pastels. Imagine subjecting a chalk pastel to that kind of treatment. Yikes.

    I have been thinking a bit how someone might make an impromptu drawing on linen - linen is really tough, by the way, and long-lasting.

    Wax-oil crayons weren’t really a thing until the eighteenth century.

    But I think maybe someone could combine charcoal and candle-wax. That is, sort of lay down the charcoal, see it’s a horrible blurry smear of grey, then go over it with the edge of a candle and the wax makes permanent lines in it that stay better when the charcoal rubs away.

    Candles were sometimes made of beef tallow, sometimes of beeswax. I think either would make a reasonable line that would stay if drawn over charcoal-smeared linen.

  9. #9
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin captaincrow's Avatar
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    Thanks for all of your answers!

    Quote Originally Posted by Marlys View Post
    If today, there are spray-on fixatives, and I believe hairspray will do in a pinch. If for the 1601 WIP mentioned in your sig line, this might help:
    It is the WIP in my sig. That sounds very interesting, thank you. However, if it is like Raindrop said and the drawing will smudge anyway when the fabric is being folded, I'd have to have the character apply a fixative immediately after drawing--which will be difficult since they are foreign where they're drawing it. So, they can't even carry the drawing home, because it'll be destroyed until then. Hm, this is more complicated than I thought it would be.

    Quote Originally Posted by neandermagnon View Post
    Charcoal won't stay on most fabrics and I don't think fixative would make much difference because it's designed for use on paper. There are many different kinds of fabrics, it may stay longer on some but won't survive being folded up and dunked in water.
    I could change the scene so that the character could draw on paper instead, but there's still the issue with the fixative. There's no plausible reason as to why the household they get the coal and paper/fabric from should have whatever kind of fixative. There's two people living in that household, one is a night watchman, the other a waiter at a tavern, neither can write so there's no reason for them to own ink and letter paper, (though they do have some books that may do without one or the other page). Fish glue, as Marlys mentioned, could make sense. So could "homemade concoctions", though I'm not sure what those could be. (But that would at least leave some room to make something up.)

    I guess I could also change that later scene so that the drawing doesn't get soaked in water. (It's only inevitable for the character, not the drawing, so that's no big deal really.)

    Ugh, of all things that I could get stuck on it's a stupid charcoal drawing.

    Quote Originally Posted by neandermagnon View Post
    The scientist in me wants to say "try it and see"... get some charcoal, write on an old rag with it, fold it up, dunk it in water and see what happens. We could all be completely wrong.
    I'm very tempted to try it, actually, I think I might even have some charcoal around somewhere. :P
    Currently working on the first draft of Blackbirds, aka FjordNovel. Historical Fantasy about witch boys on a Norwegian island in 1601. Also about some decent non-witches and some witch hunter assbutts. Contains a lot of gay and a substantial amount of angst.

  10. #10
    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    If you want something more permanent, how feasible is pyrography? Same fire, just heat a stylus and burn the image onto the surface. (Would take longer with reheating, and would require either a long handle or something with which to grip the hot metal, but it would be more durable than charcoal.) It can be done on paper or leather or fabric; hit Google for more info.
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  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin captaincrow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brightdreamer View Post
    If you want something more permanent, how feasible is pyrography? Same fire, just heat a stylus and burn the image onto the surface. (Would take longer with reheating, and would require either a long handle or something with which to grip the hot metal, but it would be more durable than charcoal.) It can be done on paper or leather or fabric; hit Google for more info.
    Oh, that sounds freakin' awesome! And you know what? The character in question is a fire mage and can produce heat with their bare hands as well as touch hot things without burning themselves. (I'm pretty sure they'll find something they can draw with somewhere in that household.)

    I'm still curious about that charcoal thing though, he-he. [goes looking for an old rag]
    Currently working on the first draft of Blackbirds, aka FjordNovel. Historical Fantasy about witch boys on a Norwegian island in 1601. Also about some decent non-witches and some witch hunter assbutts. Contains a lot of gay and a substantial amount of angst.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    If they have a little time, it's not that hard to make ink out of charcoal -- it just requires heating it with water and a bit of vinegar. Google has a bunch of recipes, you could try it for yourself!

  13. #13
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin captaincrow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by benbenberi View Post
    If they have a little time, it's not that hard to make ink out of charcoal -- it just requires heating it with water and a bit of vinegar. Google has a bunch of recipes, you could try it for yourself!
    Sounds very interesting, thanks! However, I'm pretty sure there's no water pipes. (At least I think so, I've yet to do some research on that.) And since it's a rather spontaneous idea, the character wouldn't really go out (at night and in the freezing cold, mind you) to get some water just to draw.

    Also, I just tried some charcoal on fabric and on paper. I used a compressed charcoal pencil, "raw" charcoal probably has a different effect. And guess what, we were all kinda wrong.

    The rag has a pretty rough structure (as you can see), but it's cotton and it's only that rough because it's been used so much.And (as you can see) it didn't work at all, LOL. I pressed the pencil down really hard and had to work a line several times for it to be even as slightly visible as it is now.
    http://fs5.directupload.net/images/171204/v9rdn74j.jpg

    Then I tried it on some printer paper. I folded it and held it into water for a minute or so and that's what it looked like afterwards.
    http://fs5.directupload.net/images/171204/qvd8mmub.jpg

    I even crumpled it, wrung it out, and unfolded it again and it still looked about the same. But again, the pencil was compressed coal, the cloth was cotton and very worn out, and the paper was printer paper, so the actual milage may vary.

    I think I'm going with the pyrography. Thanks to everyone for the help!
    Last edited by captaincrow; 12-05-2017 at 02:46 AM.
    Currently working on the first draft of Blackbirds, aka FjordNovel. Historical Fantasy about witch boys on a Norwegian island in 1601. Also about some decent non-witches and some witch hunter assbutts. Contains a lot of gay and a substantial amount of angst.

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