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Charcoal is a staple of the artists' toolbox. Here Arts4All and Treecreepers collaborate to demonstrate the basic process of producing charcoal with a step by step guide.

This can easily be achieved if you have access to a garden where you can make a small fire.

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Step 1:

Gather your tools and harvest your wood supplies. Willow is ideal for this and is readily found in abundance. You will need straight lengths which will be trimmed to fit into a tin. 

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Step 3:

Try experimenting by peeling off the bark, you can do this with your fingers. Leaving the bark on or taking it off will change the properties of the charcoal. 

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Step 2:

Get a tin with a securely fitting lid. The lid will need up to two holes punched safely into it.

The height of your tin will determine the length of your charcoal.

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Step 4:

Light your fire and leave it to burn a while, in order to develop a good bed of embers, ready for you to safely add your tin/s. 



Lengths of straight willow - Try peeling off the bark


Tin - with tightly fitting lid - (a treacle tin is ideal) - Add two holes into the lid using a hammer and nail

Wood and matches for fire,

and water for dousing

Gloves Fire retardant (or thick gardening gloves)

Container to store charcoal afterwards

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Step 5:

Place your tins in the heart of the fire banking the embers around them so that they heat up adequately. Add more wood during the process. The whole thing will take up to an hour.

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Step 6:

Look out for white smoke coming out of the tin. This is a sign that carbonisation is taking place. Once the smoke has stopped you can pull the tins safely to the side to cool and extinguish the fire.

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Step 7:

Once the tins are cool you can remove the lids. You may have to pry the lid off due to expansion.  You should be left with workable charcoal! 

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Step 8:

Test your charcoal. There will be variations in the texture, stability and the depth of colour.

Experiment with the results.

Step 9:

From the charcoal we made, I was able to create a portrait, much as I would using 'shop bought' products. In some cases the sticks were a little more brittle or were resistant however this can be the case with any charcoal. It is worth experimenting with the results and making batches to reflect your needs. For example I will be trying to make some larger pieces of charcoal next time.

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As you are working with fire you need to ensure that you are following safe practice. Site the fire in a clear area, keep some water on hand and check that the smoke is not going to bother neighbours.

You may notice flames coming out of the tins at points, as well as the smoke. This is fine, it is part of the process.

Have fun and play safe.

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