Woman looking away


— The quickest way to make a mark

Charcoal is one of the first tools humans used to make artwork, appearing in cave paintings dating back 28,000 years. Artists have refined the medium from burnt wood to finely-ground charcoal bound with wax or gum into sticks, crayons, and pencils. During the Renaissance, charcoal was often used to create gestural sketches to prepare for a painting, but charcoal’s range of expression makes it a beautiful medium for finished work — from the gentle ochre used in Da Vinci’s Study of a Woman’s Hands to the intense black of Redon’s spiders.

Reed Enger, "Charcoal, The quickest way to make a mark," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 27, 2015; last modified July 20, 2019,

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Apollo 11 Cave Stones

25500 BCE-25300 BCE

Study of a Woman's Hands

Leonardo da Vinci, 1490


Odilon Redon, 1878

Note in Pink and Brown

James McNeill Whistler, 1880

The Cube

Odilon Redon, 1880

The Crying Spider

Odilon Redon, 1881

The Smiling Spider

Odilon Redon, 1881


Ferdinand Hodler, 1891

The Halberdier

Ferdinand Hodler, 1895

Christ In Silence

Odilon Redon, 1897

Village Church

Piet Mondrian, 1898

Girl looking up

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1900

Woman looking away

Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, 1900

Trees on a Yellow Background

Odilon Redon, 1901

Pearl Oyster

Mikhail Vrubel, 1904

After the Concert, at the Fireplace

Mikhail Vrubel, 1905

Music (Sketch)

Henri Matisse, 1907

Before the Bath

Suzanne Valadon, 1908

Young Woman Reading (Ines)

Umberto Boccioni, 1909-1910

Sketch for States of Mind: The Farewells

Umberto Boccioni, 1911

Sketch for States of Mind: Those Who Go

Umberto Boccioni, 1911

Sketch for States of Mind: Those Who Stay

Umberto Boccioni, 1911

Studies of Self Portrait

Ferdinand Hodler, 1911

Illustration for Souz Molodyozhi

Olga Rozanova, 1913

Illustration for Souz Molodyozhi

Olga Rozanova, 1913

Pier and Ocean

Piet Mondrian, 1914

The Rhine at Duisburg

Paul Klee, 1937

Young Boy

Charles Alston, 1938

Vase, Palette, and Mandolin

Georges Braque, 1944


Elaine de Kooning, 1946

Harvest Talk

Charles White, 1953

“I’ve Been 'Buked and I’ve Been Scorned”

Charles White, 1956

Two Palettes

Jim Dine, 1963

Untitled, 1965

Brice Marden, 1964-1965


Charles White, 1966

Open No. 122 in Scarlet and Blue

Robert Motherwell, 1969

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110

Robert Motherwell, 1971

Future Indicative

Lee Krasner, 1977
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From the caves to the desktop

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