River Birches, charcoal drawing


Drawing with charcoal continues its hold over me as I explore its range of values and techniques to express a variety of subjects.  This river scene was particularly challenging in establishing depth in the back wooded area and for keeping the birch trees out in the foreground.

River Birches, a charcoal drawing (8×10) was drawn on Strathmore Bristol Vellum paper using compressed charcoal, vine charcoal, charcoal pencils and loose powder, and for blending tools q-tips, tortilium and a kneaded eraser.  Many of the brilliant leaves at the top were done using negative drawing, the only way I could think to get some definition and leaving the rest to the viewers imagination.  The birch trunks were developed using a loose powder for graying the bark, the pencils brought out the dark patterns, and the kneaded eraser to pull out the highlights.  I’m not convinced by the water reflections, an area I’ll explore more with charcoal.

The drawing took about 12 hours, with some 27 photographs taken along the way to analyze the progress, and a lot of standing back to examine the piece from different angles.  This drawing taught me a lot ~ click onto the image for a larger view.

River BirchesPLEASE DON’T TAKE MY IMAGES – MY ART IS COPYRIGHTED.
PLEASE DON’T COPY OR USE THE IMAGE WITHOUT RECEIVING MY PERMISSION FIRST – SEE DISCLOSURE ON THE RIGHT PANEL.

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About Mary

Oil Pastelist
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92 Responses to River Birches, charcoal drawing

  1. What a wonderful drawing Mary! This one is one of my favorites of yours. It reminds me of a drawing by Carlson! ~Rita

  2. Fabulous textures and midtones!

  3. Mona says:

    Really really lovely.

  4. Another absolutely beautiful drawing.

  5. dsaquarelles says:

    I have the impression to feel the bark of birches in the hand Impressive.!

  6. Twelve hours?! I would have given up long ago, but your persistence really paid off. It’s lovely.

    One thing I love about your work is that it always seems to inviting. It’s never foreboding; it always has a warmth to it, even when it’s black and white.

  7. Fabio says:

    Phenomenal work, Mary! Kudos to you! 🙂

  8. aFrankAngle says:

    We like river birches, so thanks for the smiles. I enjoy the way you have so much in the background.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Frank. This was one of the river bank scenes that had so much contrast because of the heavily wooded area and then bursts of sunlight – lots of intriguing stuff going on. The charcoal worked great in the piece, to my surprise. Thanks so much and hope you have a wonderful week ahead!

  9. Another beautiful work! I feel as if I can reach out and feel the cracks on those trees. And I love that you have described all the tools you used and the process of achieving the effect – always helpful for us amateurs 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Thank you for your lovely and thoughtful comment Malvika – means a lot. The trees were a lot of fun to develop with the charcoal pencils. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about the process, I never know if people are interested or not so I thank you for your feedback.

  10. The birch trees are rendered perfectly. The textures and gradations are so beautiful. Love the gentle angles of the trees which holds the viewer captive within the piece. Very nicely done Mary.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you very much Rhonda – it was a great exercise to see if I could push the background and move the trees forward with so many values and contrasts in the scene. Thanks for mentioning them, the birches were perfect subjects to develop with the charcoal pencils. Have a wonderful week.

      • Painting for Joy says:

        You too Mary.

        I’m in Phoenix, AZ with my husband. Traveled through Nevada and met my sweet little grandson. So very cute! 😊

        • Mary says:

          Sounds like you guys are having a great time, AZ is not a bad place to be this time of year! Hope you are enjoying the warm weather. I was waiting to hear about your new grandbaby, very exciting and I’ll bet you couldn’t get enough time with the precious one. I’m so happy for you! Have a great vacation ~

  11. This is a very complex composition with some amazing techniques which you’re a master of Mary! An insane amount of details went into this piece and it’s wonderfully integrated, most impressive yet! Love the tree trunks, absolutely beautiful, but then every corner of this piece is amazingly executed! Your dedication is super inspiring! Love, love and love this, my favorite as yet! You’re a brilliant artist, period!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Eva – it was an insane project to try capturing in charcoal, some aspects worked better than others. I appreciate your response and analysis of the scene, it felt like I was painting in oil pastels while working the patterns of the bark and foreground grasses. It took a while to figure out how to do the background, while giving it depth but not overpowering the scene – moving the trees forward worked perfectly using the darkness of the charcoal pencils. It was a interesting and fun scene to workout in charcoal – thank you for your encouraging support. Hope you have a wonderful week!

  12. cmartzloff says:

    Beautiful. I can really “feel” that bark. Great capturing of texture.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you Catherine. Don’t you love birch tree bark, the contrasts are so dynamic – a great compliment when you can feel the subject. Thanks again ~

  13. Great subject for charcoal, beautifully executed

  14. ladyfi says:

    What a fabulous drawing!

  15. Sabiscuit says:

    I can’t tell if I’m looking at a photograph or drawing, Mary. That’s how awesome your drawing is. xo

  16. This is very beautiful and so full of feeling💕✨

  17. thefeatheredsleep says:

    This ones really lovely Mary!♡

  18. The birch trunks are brilliant, Mary and I don’t agree about the water reflection: I’m convinced! Beautiful composition, my dear! 🙂 Have a lovely weekend 🙂 xx

    • Mary says:

      Thank you Marina for your beautiful response to the drawing – loved reading your thoughts on the piece. Hoping you have a brilliant and sun-filled weekend my friend!

  19. I don’t know how you have the patience for it, but wow, you’re doing beautiful work, Mary. I am always stunned by how much detail you capture with mediums I don’t think I’d even try to get detail with!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Laura – I think my patience come from only working two-three hours at a time, which is actually a good breather and time to step away and come back refreshed. You can get some good detail with charcoal depending on the type (pencils and rectangle compressed pieces are good examples), but also some tools work too (like q-tips, frisket and eye shadow applicators). Thank you always for your kind feedback!

  20. Resa says:

    Beautifully done! I would have never questioned the reflections on the water. It is obviously water. There are not always clear reflections on water. I think it depends on the time of day (angle of the sun) & if it is cloudy or not.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Resa – always appreciate your artistic eye, especially with the water reflections. Drawing water reflections with charcoal is going to take some practice (lots of it) to get the fine tuning down. Have a wonderful weekend.

  21. debiriley says:

    Mary, this is a lovely work of art. With heart and soul. You’ve conveyed the atmosphere and how you feel about nature in this image perfectly, smoothly without stiff rigidity. I really really love how you are working with the charcoal!!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you Debi – who knew that you could feel your work through charcoal, but that is what happens (especially when I was drawing in the bark, very cool). Thank you, the words you used “without stiff rigidity” is exactly what I’m after – have more work to do, but your comment is most appreciated!

  22. Heartafire says:

    Great job Mary, such lovely artwork!

  23. Nicodemas says:

    Just wonderful Mary!

  24. restlessjo says:

    You’ve got so much texture in there, Mary! Amazing how you do it. Have a happy weekend! 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Jo – the variety of texture was an interesting challenge to buildup and was one of the reasons that I was attracted to the scene. Have a wonderful weekend too!

  25. Amy says:

    You’re a talented and dedicated artist, Mary! That is a long hour work for this beautiful drawing. 🙂
    Thank you for giving us the privilege to enjoy. 🙂

  26. You have achieved what you set out to do, which is to capture the depth of the image….and at the same time it has a feeling of natural integration that we see so beautifully expressed in nature. Another beauty. Have a lovely weekend. Janet. 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much Janet, I really enjoyed reading your feedback – especially “a feeling of natural integration” that was what I was looking for. This drawing was a great scene to challenge me to experiment with a variety of techniques from pulling charcoal out, to a variety of blending techniques and laying down the medium thickly/thinly. I wanted the viewer to feel as though they were at the river bank about to touch the tree bark. Thank you again – I did receive your second comment. I’m very behind in reading blog posts and hope to catch up today and this weekend. Have a wonderful weekend!

  27. exiledprospero says:

    You certainly nailed the depth aspect–what could have been a rivulet is a genuine river.

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much Prospero for your generous feedback on the depth. It was a bit of doing, getting the varying values right to show distance, but also the dense woods. I love a challenge – say hello to Princess Ariel!

  28. This is really wonderful, Mary. You’ve achieved such realistically textured birch bark, and I love the way you’ve drawn the grasses along the river bank. What amazing patience you have, and it’s so well rewarded. xx 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Thank you very much Sylvia, i enjoyed your feedback. The foreground grass was smudged and then worked out by using frisket (a kind of tape) that allowed me to pull thin lines out of the charcoal. Cool that you mentioned them!

  29. Carol King says:

    Hi Mary, I love those three trees in the front. I can feel their rough bark. The grasses are so soft and lovely. Beautiful work.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Carol, thank you – I’m loving how you described your reaction to the drawing. No greater compliment than when someone can feel the subject, wow. Hope you are enjoying the beautiful moments of Spring in NC – you are living in the place to be!

  30. It’s extraordinary, enchanting, and magical. I love it!

    • Mary says:

      Hello my friend, so happy you enjoyed the drawing. Love your description, not often someone uses those words to describe a drawing – thank you so much!

  31. Alok Singhal says:

    I very much appreciate your hard work…shows how much committed you are!

    Thank you very much for putting these up, we are blessed to enjoy these for free 🙂

  32. I can almost touch the roughness of tree bark, and the grasses and leaves are so sensitively done…you have such a good command of negative drawing. I agree with what you say about the water….the word “river” in your title sets me up to know that it is water, but otherwise I might have seen it as some other kind of middle space, more tangible than water. Seeing and looking and looking and seeing again….you are truly amazing, Mary!

    • Mary says:

      Hi Cynthia, thank you so much for your encouraging and supportive feedback on this drawing – I was dreaming about leaves before I was done with the piece. It was a great exercise in negative drawing, thank you for your kind comment, had to stop myself from overdoing it. I’ve some work to do on managing water better, especially in charcoal when there are reflections, etc. and drawing them out. The shining water scum floating on top was a bit of a challenge too. But all in good time – I learned a lot. Have a wonderful weekend.

  33. Arts & Rhymes says:

    Oh this is so beautiful, Mary! I love how detailed are the tree trunks. I could never achieve that with a black and white painting, but this sure inspires me to try! 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Oh Sibella you really know how to make my day, but you absolutely could produce a gorgeous birch tree with your B&W paints. I hope you try it out. Thank you very much, love your supportive feedback!

  34. We have a River Birch in our front yard, Mary and it looks exactly like your drawing. The detail is amazing!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much Jill for such a compliment. I had a ball drawing out the patterns, it was a process of finding the patterns and then bringing them forward. I love birch trees, very powerful trees.

  35. Mary, this is an amazing drawing. So many details. I love birch trees and this is a wonderful drawing of them. Your reverse technique is so masterful. Wow! 12 hours, I admire your dedication!

    • Mary says:

      Thank you so much Janell and very happy to see you! Hope you are well, I’m very behind in checking out blog postings and looking forward to seeing what you have been up too! Thank you for looking at the details of the scene – it took a while to figure out how to tackle certain aspects, really appreciate your encouraging feedback!

  36. John says:

    Great depth of field beyond the trees, and details on the bark. I see you’ve changed the copyright below your work. It’s a serious problem with no solution. I recently stopped watermarking my photos considering the tech today. Anyone can remove the watermark…

    • Mary says:

      Hi John, thank you very much for your feedback! I do have a text embedded within each of my works that you’d need a magnifying glass to know what you’re looking at, on purpose. I’ve had issues with finding my work all over the internet, sad but part of life. I can understand why you’ve stopped putting the watermark on your work.

  37. Jet Eliot says:

    Thanks so much, Mary, for sharing the process with us, it is complicated and fascinating. And the end result it fantastic. I have enjoyed your charcoal drawings a lot. 🙂

    • Mary says:

      Hi Jet, I’m glad you liked learning about the process – I gave it a lot of thought before I went into developing this piece, appreciate it! I probably bit off more than I can chew with the drawing, but again it was a great learning experience. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment.

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