Nativity Art Blog Post - A New Look

A nativity art blog as subject matter is a departure from my regular posts on Western Art. I have been experimenting with some new pencil techniques and recently decided to try my hand at charcoal. Easier said than done! by the time I finished I gained a real appreciation for those who use charcoal as their primary medium.

I was invited by friend and gallery owner Frank Prince to participate in his annual Nativity Art Celebration. After some research and study I decided on this simple figure drawing of Mary and baby Jesus, with dramatic lighting from the side. After finding my female model and taking several posed photos (with a friend’s borrowed baby) I worked out my composition with the thumbnail sketches you can see in the above photo.

Tools of the trade

I began by laying the shadow areas with vine charcoal. Then I concentrated on Mary, working on her face and hair, as well as the shawl covering her head. One thing I learned about charcoal was “sneaking up” on the darks, using first vine charcoal, which can be easily erased or lightened, then following up with my compressed charcoal stick for permanent darks. Finally, I used charcoal pencils to emphasize dark areas in the hair, eyes and shadows. The face was laid in with a very light dusting of charcoal powder with a soft tissue and q-tips. Just one accidental brush of my hand can wipe off the dust and cause all kinds of problems!

The composition is taking shape as I move from the vine charcoal and incorporate the compressed charcoal stick. I lay in and define the folds of Mary’s shawl and clothing, and define more of the background darks.

After a lot of pushing the charcoal around, using my kneaded eraser to pull out highlights, Mary and the background are completed.  My goal was to have strong side lighting and I’m happy with the results.

The final step was drawing the delicate baby Jesus in his little blanket. There is not much detail and just a suggestion of shadow on the light-colored cloth. At the last minute I decide to darken the shadow behind Mary, and then I realize that her hair is too light and also needs to be darkened. Finally, I’m finished! I named the drawing Chosen Mother of Israel.

I hope you enjoyed this demo. As a side note, when I delivered the drawing to the gallery, I was delighted to get a call just an hour later telling me that it had sold. I was also honored to have my drawing included as artwork for LDS composer Garth Smith’s new CD, “A Sacred Christmas”.

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