About Charcoal

About Charcoal

Each medium of the 17 materials analyzed in The Spirit of Matter begins with keywords.

Charcoal Keywords: flexibility, impulsiveness, movement, power, separation, sensuality, tactility”

Here are two examples:

Fourth graders were suggested by their art teacher, to use charcoal to draw very quickly a few toys. It was a preparation lesson for drawing animals outside. She showed them how to work quickly with the width of the charcoal and not only the point.


Another art teacher, Shira Levine Weiss, works in a psychiatric ward, with adolescents. The studio time is unique as it is associated to conventional life, because she is not a therapist. This has a good impact on the group.

She introduced a text from Genesis and the medium she chose for a personal process relating to both, was charcoal and white paper.

As she always does, the images are being hung with the text next to it.

“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.…” Genesis 1:3


Both teachers used the material as a catalyst for the interventions needed.

If you read the following text – you can see this clearly.

“Therapeutic and Spiritual Significance

Each touch of charcoal on white paper, starting with the first mark, conveys a dramatic sensation. Its color ranges from light grays to an intense, velvety, deep black.

Charcoal has a tremendous range. It has an expressive presence and can be harsh and sharp, especially on white paper. It produces a lot of  black dust and stains everything it comes in contact with. Thus, we can see that it is suitable for working on extreme emotions, anger, shame, guilt, longing and pain.

On the other hand, it can also be sensual, “elegant” and “cultural”, especially vine charcoal. It produces rich monochromatic shades of black. An artwork built gradually into the paper using layered nets fixed with fixative, becomes deeper both emotionally and technically. It is a clear metaphor for the process the client is going through, as charcoal easily relates to underlying emotional states.

A charcoal drawing can develop and deepen even more by using fixative and black nets to highlight specific areas. Other ways to cultivate the drawing is by working with a kneading eraser, which “lightens” dense areas with light white marks and nets. A rag can also be used to clean the whole drawing and begin the process again. The more you darken a certain area, the rest will seem lighter compared to it and the range will stretch and become richer. Charcoal is a “threshold material”, it contains within it “cognitive traits,” but at the same time a great deal of emotions. Its flexibility, the possibility of starting over after wiping off lines or creating different accumulations and densities, all these are actually working “into” the paper, bringing up emotional equivalents such as flexibility and depth, relaxation and release. Since charcoal leaves “crumbs”, feelings of anxiety may surface, as well as freedom and sensual pleasure. In some cases, guilt and fear of getting dirty will arise, alongside expressions of liberation and a sense of power and control over the chaos…….”

Orbach Nona & Galkin Lilach. The Spirit of Matter – A Database Handbook for Therapists, Artists and Educators (Kindle Locations 198-209). Orbach Nona.


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