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History of Hues: Charcoal

Updated: May 31, 2022

In this edition of History of Hues, we are starting in the Paleolithic era. Charcoal, the color for exploration, was found in prehistoric art, which was produced around 14,0000 BC. The cave art in Altamira Spain was discovered, as most things are, by accident in 1879. Mr. Sanz de Sautuola, a local landowner and amateur archeologist, was in a cave with his daughter Maria and was busy dusting the floor looking for tools when his 9-year-old daughter called his attention to the pictures on the wall and ceiling. She was pointing at drawings of a herd of bison in dark charcoal and ochre.

When he published his daughter’s findings in 1880, Mr. Sanz de Sautuola was met with ridicule and accused of fraud. Esteemed professional archeologists of the time did not bother to visit the caves but instead decreed that prehistoric man was too savage and lame to be able to create such a drawing. Mr. Sanz de Sautlola died broken and dishonored in 1888, but in 1902, as many other caves with paintings were discovered, the reality of paintings in the cave in Altamira was finally believed.

As charcoal pigment can come from almost anything that can be burned, the assumption is that prehistoric man took a stick from the fire and used it for the cave paintings. The charred part of the stick is what made the marks on the walls. The charcoal most people think of is a lightweight black carbon residue that is the byproduct of an organic matter that has been heated in an oxygen-restricted manner.

Artists' charcoal is made the same way. Finely ground organic materials are held together by a gum or wax binder for crayons. It is also pressed together for the dry form of drawing sticks. Artists use charcoal for its versatility as a variety of lines and shading are achievable in drawing with charcoal.

During the Post-Impressionism era in 19th century France, the medium started to come into its own. Artists like Georges Seurat and Odilon Redon were pushing the boundaries of charcoal. Seurat captured the capabilities of charcoal, enhancing the range of shading and textures in his work. His investigation of light was seen in his paintings and his works of charcoal and conte crayon.

As a color family, gray has grown in popularity. Charcoal is a color that is represented by dark gray. It is a sophisticated color that has the strength and mystery of black, but not the potential negativity. It has a wonderful neutral quality to it and can be paired with other neutrals. With brighter colors, it can act as the grounding color in the room. This makes it a perfect color choice for window curtains, paint, and rugs.

At the drape, we used charcoal as one of the colors in the cotton fabrication. This fabric looks great on its own and lined with the privacy liner or the blackout liner. The dove color in the velvet is also rooted in charcoal. Order your 5 free swatches today and see if charcoal is the right color for your home.


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