Though a recent convert from graphite, British artist Nolon Stacey's mastery of the medium of charcoal is immediately apparent in his strikingly detailed compositions. Stacey was kind enough to take a break from channeling the wonders of the natural world that surround his home and studio in the Yorkshire Dales in northern England to answer some questions for our latest installment of the Contemporary Charcoals blog series. For more on Stacey's work, please visit his website: www.nolonstacey.com
Nitram Charcoal (NC): What is the last art show that you saw? What did you take from it?
Nolon Stacey (NS): One of the few downsides to living where I do - I'm in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, far from any big cities - is that I never get to see large art shows. There are many local exhibitions by fantastic artists, but I haven’t ventured to somewhere like London in over 10 years.
NC: In your opinion, what sets charcoal apart from other artistic media?
NS: I love working in black and white, without the use of colour, working only in shades of grey, because I am able to concentrate on the tones, and textures, and the character of the subject. For a long time, I worked solely with graphite pencils. Graphite allowed me to work in a very detailed manner with the ability to create any tone and texture I wanted. The only thing about graphite I didn’t like was the shine, especially from dark areas.
I always dismissed trying charcoal because I was certain I wouldn’t be able to get the same level of detail and cleanliness as I did in my graphite work. About 2 years ago, I set myself that goal: to see if I could draw with charcoal the same as I did with my detailed graphite work. It worked with the very first piece I tried.
Over the last two years, my charcoal work has developed to look more like charcoal. I have maintained the detail in my subjects, but my backgrounds have certainly loosened up, with more texture being introduced.NC: What is the greatest challenge to working with charcoal?
NS: I like my drawings to look ‘clean’ and, for me, this is the greatest challenge to working with charcoal. It is, by its very nature, a messy medium. This is where charcoal pencils and charcoal holders are a great help. The Nitram Baton is a great tool to work with, as it provides an easy-to-sharpen stick of charcoal without the mess that usually comes with charcoal sticks. The other challenge is how much more sharpening charcoal requires, especially when compared to the mechanical pencils I use when working in graphite.
NC: What is one thing you cannot live without in the studio?
NS: My espresso machine. I have one at home and in the studio, and I wouldn’t sit down to start drawing without a coffee next to me.
NC: What is the strangest response you've ever received for a piece?
NS: One of the most common responses is “Why don’t you work in colour?,” which always seems a strange question to me. Do people ask artists who work in colour why they don’t work in black and white? Or do people ask printmakers why they don’t paint instead? I was once demonstrating at a show and as I was just finishing off the drawing, someone asked me “Is that it, or are you going to colour it in?” I’ve also had many people cry at my work - I’ve always assumed that’s a positive thing!
NC: Who is your favorite living artist?
NS: I tend to love work that is totally different to my own. Possibly my favourite artist is James Bartholomew. I love his style. While he paints similar subjects to me (dogs, livestock, British wildlife, as well as his seascapes), he has a very loose style, totally the opposite to me, but still manages to give his subjects great character. His paintings always have great lighting too.
NC: What inspires you in the studio?
NS: My inspirations come from the dales that surround me. I only draw the animals that are around me, hares, barn owls, deer, livestock, etc. Other artists constantly inspire me as well, but that inspiration is usually not taken from other wildlife artists but rather from those who focus on landscape or cityscape subjects.
NC: Tell us a bit about your background. What do you consider your greatest artistic accomplishment?
NS: I was always able to draw as a child, but it was never something I ever considered pursuing. I studied Pure Mathematics at university and occasionally dabbled in drawing as a hobby. After university and quite a few years of travelling, I became a fitness instructor. It was during that time that I started drawing more and more, almost exclusively rendering portraits of people. Eventually, people started paying me, and I realised that it could be possible to make a living from my hobby. I gradually moved onto drawing dogs, and then the British wildlife. I quit my job and became a full time artist almost 10 years ago.
I would consider my greatest accomplishment as being able to make a living from drawings. My wife and I run our own gallery in Masham in the Yorkshire Dales, I exhibit at shows throughout the year, and I sell through many other galleries. It took time to find what worked for me from a business perspective, but I got there eventually.
NC: Outside of charcoal, what is a medium with which you'd like to experiment?
NS: Having only recently switched from graphite to charcoal, I can’t imagine having a desire to try anything new for a while. If I were to try something completely different, it would possibly be printmaking of some kind. That could be just so I could own a nice old printing press though!