Reductive Drawing: Erasure as Medium

Reductive charcoal drawing, also known as negative drawing, is a resourceful, inventive process in which the artist first darkens, to some degree, an entire sheet of paper -- perhaps with a Nitram® bloc de saule -- then smudges and blends the pigmentation to a smooth, even gray. From this stage, application of erasure is used to create or define primary shapes and images. The highlights and “lit” aspects of the composition emerge as dominant, creating a striking, potentially realistic interplay between light and shadow. Darker, defining outlines and values can then be added with Nitram® fusains. In reductive work, the process of charcoal drawing can reverse course entirely, allowing for a novel textural treatment. Effects of chiaroscuro are obtained easily and quite naturally, and the treatment of tone and value becomes an exercise in opposites.
Erasure in Charcoal Drawing

In reductive drawing, a kneaded eraser or putty rubber can act either as the artist’s primary implement or as a medium for special emphasis, though stumping with a lighter shade of pastel can impart a similar visual effect (see image). The malleability of a kneaded eraser, with its inherent potential for great control, allows for interesting variation in the degree of precision normally experienced in charcoal drawing. The issue of a paper’s ability to hold charcoal throughout the design process changes perceptibly, and the artist is able to manipulate tone and value by means of subtle pressure changes and varied application of the eraser. One can even employ repetitive tapping in order to attain a desired effect. In addition, a stick eraser may be used to impart a fine white line, rendering the creation of a defined mark or edge quite effortless. The artist can sculpt or manipulate the shape of a kneaded eraser to his or her exact specifications, with infinite variation for each individual gesture. Stick erasers or erasing pencils, perfect for incisive touches, arrive pre-shaped for the indentation of super-refined, bright-white marks into the charcoal ground.

With adept, intuitive translation of light and volume, reductive touches produce a more blended, painterly effect than could otherwise be achieved in the charcoal medium. Whenever a reductive technique is used, shapes can emerge readily from pictorial space, edges are greatly softened, and an intense degree of realism becomes possible through subtlety of technique as well as an overall smoothing of the paper’s surface. The technique can, of course, be extremely messy, depending upon the extent of the initial darkening of the paper; a quantity of charcoal will migrate from its original placement and onto all other available surfaces during the subsequent process of drawing, and one might prepare for this eventuality by taking even greater care than usual with choices of clothing and location. In return, the artist is rewarded with a finished piece incorporating exquisite representation and emergence of light, heightened realism, and the transformation of previously obvious lines into beams of light. The viewer, in turn, is spared a step in conceptualization, moving past perception of simple outline and immediately forward to a complete, coherent consideration of the subject as a unified whole.

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