Notebook, 1993-




Substance obtained by partial burning or destructive distillation of organic material. It is largely pure carbon. The most common variety, wood charcoal, was formerly prepared by piling wood into stacks, covering it with earth or turf, and setting it on fire. In this process volatile compounds in the wood (e.g., water) pass off as vapors into the air, some of the cabon is consumed as fuel, and the rest of the carbon is converted into charcoal. In the modern method, wood is raised to a high temperature in an iron retort, and industrially important by-products, e.g., methanol (wood alcohol), acetone, and acetic acid, are saved by condensing them to their liquid form. Charcoal, being almost pure carbon, yields a lager amount of heat in proportion to its volume that is obtained from a corresponding quantity of wood; as a fuel it has the further advantage of being smokeless. Charcoal is also obtained from substances other than wood; that obtained from bones is called bone black, animal black, or animal charcoal. Because of its porous structure, finely divided charcoal is highly efficient agent for filtering the adsorption of gases and of solids from solution. It is used in sugar refining, in water purification, in the purification of factory air, and in gas masks. By special heating or chemical processes the adsorptive property can be greatly increased; charcoal so treated is known as activated charcoal. [Harris, William H., and Judith S. Levey, eds. The New Columbia Encyclopedia. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1975.]

Charcoal. Charred twigs or sticks used for drawing. Its use dates back to Roman times and possibly much earlier. An essential characteristic of charcoal is that it is easily rubbed off the drawing surface unless a fixative is used, so it has been much favoured for preparatory work, either for sketches or cartoons or for outlining on wall or panel a design that could be gone over with a more permanent medium. The soft-edged effect it produces has been notably exploited by the Venetian painters of the later 16th. cent., the Baroque artists, and the Impressionists. Pencils and chalks have now taken its place to some extent, but it remains well suited to large-scale work and broad, energetic draughtsmanship, and in the 20th cent. has been memorably used by Barlach and Kollwitz. [Chilvers, Ian, Harold Osborne, and Dennis Farr, eds. Oxford Dictionary Of Art. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.]

Charcoal is charred wood, usually willow. Depending on the wood, charcoal varies from hard to soft and may be smudged with the finger or stump to create areas of shading. It can be black or dull gray. It is a cheap, widely used and old medium; true charcoal drawings appear at the end of the fifteenth century, with the development of fixatives, which are solutions sprayed on the finished drawing to keep it from smudging. Charcoal lends itself to large-scale works because it is soft and easily manipulated and can be readily erased. In the Renaissance it was used primarily for sketches; artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael made many studies in this medium. By the nineteenth century, artists used it for both sketches and finished drawings. Edgar Degas, for example, was a master at suggesting in bold charcoal strokes the energy of a gesture or the personality of a pose, as in The Violinist.. [Drawing Techniques, Gallery Notes P5 - Works on Paper Series. Print, Drawing, and Photography Galleries. 1984, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.]



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