We discovered this fabulously messy and creative activity almost by accident last autumn at our Christmas film shoot, and we can’t look at burnt wood the same way anymore. For us, it has become a favoured art resource…
Archeologists have used radiocarbon dating to evidence the artistry of cave dwellers from the Stone Age (and even earlier) thanks to the make-up of the paints used back then to tell stories on stone. We know for example that our ancestors used minerals (ground up rock and charcoal) and mixed it with animal fat to give them an oil-paint consistency. It was those fats which can offer us the carbon-dating and help us understand the lives of those ancient civilisations.
We’re in good company then.
All you need for this activity is some charcoal - or burnt wood from yesterday’s campfire - plus some oil (vegetable oil works just fine). You’ll also need a grinding tool - a stone or one of our wooden mallets will do nicely. As for a painting surface, you could use paper, canvas, material scraps, the bark of a tree, rock - or even your own skin! In these photos we used a calico flag from our Natural Fabric Art Kit.
Grind up or bash the charcoal into a powder, mix with a little oil to make an appropriate ‘oil paint’ consistency and use a paintbrush to get creative. You could even make your own paintbrushes using a stick with some natural materials (dried leaves, wool, piece of evergreen etc) tied on to one end.
This is deeply satisfying and absorbing activity that combines physical exploration with mindful creativity - and a history lesson to boot. Just a warning - leave the white linen in the cupboard and make sure you’re happy to let them get mucky - they’ll transform into your very own Stig of the Dump (and it’s too late for World Book Day).