Gemma Appleby’s inspiring use of charcoal

Surfing the web for drawing techniques I found the web site of a young artist, Gemma Appleby who is using charcoal to interesting and also a high finish effect.

Born in 1987 Gemma Appleby grew up in the new forest, which has influenced her work. From her web site biography she states that her work is an investigation into the complex relationship between architecture and landscape.

The work interests me as I’m just starting to explore the possibilities of charcoal myself. A medium I have disliked in the past for its messy smudginess. Characteristics that are starting to appeal to me in an attempt to explore a freer approach to drawing.

Saying that the way Appleby uses the medium is not at all smudged or messy. The drawings are tight with crisp edges. Mostly in a square drawing plain. The general gist of all the charcoal on paper drawings are of imagined architectural structures in large looming forest landscapes. You can see from the drawings she began this on going journey with in 2008 where the idea stems from. The earlier works show landscape views made from with in forests. In these earlier pieces the over all effect is softer. They are studies of tree formations, and the way the light plays through the branches.

As the series progresses more serial elements start creeping in. These rely heavily on value contrast. For example Ribbon Shows a dark, eiry, misty looking forest with tall intimidating fur trees. The scene appears to be lit by torch light. This effect is produced by a lighter roughly circular area in the centre of the drawing. The edges recede into back into darkness. Diagonally a bright white line zigzags through the trees to a vanishing point on the three quarter line of the opposite side of the drawing.

The artist makes full use of the ability to create strong light and dark using charcoal as it is such a black substance. The contrast works so well the white ribbon appears like it is actually glow like a neon bulb against the black of the charcoal.

In 2009 the artist has experimented with digital image. Warping some of her landscape on the computer printing them and then using these evolved images to make new charcoal drawings of bulging landscapes. As if viewing the scenes in a hall of crazy mirrors.

The artist has stuck with this subjects evolution to the current date. Her works  seem to swing from developing the architectural theme with imagined structures in varying states of completion casting unnatural reflections and shadows which gives the drawings an uneasy out of context felling.

Her work all relies heavily on the use of perspective and vale. The latest works on display show curled ribbons spiralling round on the square cut paper, 75 cm x 75 cm.  With in these spires the tree trucks clime up in the direction of an unseen vanishing point. The negative space is pure and even black.

all in all a really interesting progression in progress. Demonstrating use of the modern digital medium combined with age old humble charcoal. A strong awareness of positive and negative space is evident. Combined with a heavy reliance on perspective. Not forgetting the strong contrasting value used in these monochromatic dreamscapes. All of the these elements are hall marks of this artists work.

I am slightly in ore of how an artist can doggedly pursue one idea so far. Keeping the medium and the drawing style the same. Personally I am always side tracked by all I see and new techniques I learn about and what to try them all out. That’s why I struggle with the concept of finding a personal voice. I wonder will this allusive personal voice find me or should I be making more effort to force myself into one style or another and stick with it?

I’d certainly like to start developing some ideas and sticking with them longer and producing more than just one piece from them. I suppose this degree I’m working towards will guide me toward that process.


About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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