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written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Crâne (Skull)

Crâne (Skull)

It may seem odd to some, but I have always liked skulls! I don’t find them unpleasant or creepy. Instead I admire their design. For me they are like brilliant sculptures, every form flowing perfectly into the next, creating wonderful patterns of light and shadow. With this charcoal drawing by Jérôme Guenette I get to enjoy this to the full.

This skull startles us with its presence, having seemingly materialized out of nowhere. It has a powerful three-dimensional quality, as if Guenette has carved it out of the surrounding dark. A lot of this is due to his use of light. Here, light is strong and shadows deep. Much of the skull disappears into the darkness. There are few half-tones, which symbolically is very fitting: we find few “half-tones” where death is concerned.

The sculptural quality is also due to Guenette’s focusing on the large abstract shapes. He has pared things down to the point that we have only the most basic information, but it is all we need. Keeping the shapes so simple and bold makes the skull seem tangible even though there is not much detail. We know how heavy and solid it is, we can feel its weight.

Yet there is a kind of ghostliness about it too, as it is not “finished”. Guenette does not show us everything. He provides certain details that suggest the rest of the form (I particularly like the gleam of light on the cheekbone), but that is all. We must finish it in our minds. Strangely, these two opposing qualities – presence and non-presence – co-exist easily, lending the work an exciting tension. I find myself peering into the shadows to search for the edges that the artist has hidden. The part conveys the whole very convincingly.

What really caught my eye about this little work, though, is its confidence. I love the deftness of Guenette’s technique. He tosses off his drawing with such finesse! Look at the different marks: broad swathes, brisk dashes, a few delicate lines. There is no fuss, just some bold strokes that take full advantage of the richness and textural effects of the charcoal on the paper. It all makes for a lot of drama and energy, which in turn creates a wonderful visual paradox. Technically a skull speaks of death, and yet … the rendering is so lively! There is so much personality. Life and death together in one small drawing – this is why I love the art of the pencil.


  • His technique is fascinating…I’ve never seen such painterly graphite before!

  • I am always inspired by the sensitive treatment of pencil in the examples you choose.

    The current portrait is beyond breath-taking. Coloured pencil is my passion… but I struggle to infuse enough light and depth into my own work.

    I wish though that your own analysis of the artwork each month could include a description of the media used.

    That new breath-taking portrait is mixed, is it not?

    I would love to attend your International Show, but will be there in spirit…and viewing it on-line….


      Hi Wendy, thank you so much for your comment and encouragement! I don’t always know HOW the artist has achieved their special look or effects, but I am now trying to remember to mention WHICH medium(s) the artist used … often I’m so excited by what I’m looking at that I forget! Yes, the new one by Christine Karron is mixed media: watercolour and coloured pencil, plus a bit of acrylic.