Drawing a Devil’s Claw in Charcoal and Graphite

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Drawing of a devil’s claw in charcoal and graphite on 11″ x 14″ Bristol board

“What is that?!”

That’s the usual reaction I get to the dried fruit of the Proboscidea (plant, not the order of megafauna with trunks).  It’s also known as the unicorn plant.

Here’s the same drawing in different lighting:

Drawing of a devil's claw seed pod in charcoal and graphite on 11" x 14" Bristol board
Drawing of a devil’s claw in charcoal and graphite on 11″ x 14″ Bristol board

This is the actual devil’s claw:

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The devil’s claw/unicorn plant is considered a holdover from the Ice Age, back when giants last roamed the Americas.  The dried fruit has large burs with which it used to hitch rides on the fur of Ice Age megafauna.  It can also hitch a ride on your shoe or, if you’re not careful, inflict a pretty bad puncture wound.

My particular seed pod was a gift from a friend who found it at a farmers’ market in Wisconsin.  In return, I gave him my drawing.

The drawing was one of my first charcoals.  It was difficult to use charcoal on a smooth surface! Bristol board, being very smooth, is best used for pen, marker, and fine pencil drawings.  Also, I had some trouble using charcoal with graphite.  Charcoal has a matte finish, while graphite is glossy, so it can be tricky to use them in combination.  Many people think that charcoal and graphite shouldn’t be used together at all.  However, this hyper-realist disagrees.  (His book is excellent, by the way.  If you’re at all interested in realistic representational drawings in graphite and charcoal, you should check it out.)

Since then, I’ve used Strathmore 400 Series drawing paper.  Although commonly available in the US, it took me a while to discover that it’s excellent for charcoal, pencil, or other dry media, and is pretty much the consensus paper to use for practice drawings.  It’s acid-free but not archival-quality; according to Hillberry, it might yellow over time.  He recommends using 100% rag paper for final drawings. Dedicated charcoal paper exists, and some artists use pastel paper, but I haven’t yet used either.

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