Did you know about our new venture, Soul of Fire Artists' Charcoal? As well as our BBQ charcoal, we now also make charcoal you can draw with. It's a fantastic new opportunity for us to introduce more people to the joy of charcoal, so here's a bit more about our sister organisation.
Reconnecting art with nature
Soul of Fire Artists’ Charcoal started life in a field in Arbroath, Scotland in September 2021, when Paul Cookson and Jo Edwards from Green Aspirations Scotland CIC worked with artist Jade de Montserrat on her Live Charcoal project. Over 5 days outside of Hospitalfield House – a centre dedicated to contemporary arts and ideas – Jade led other artists and visitors in a range of activities, from drawing classes and charcoal workshops to readings and wood carvings. All this took place around a traditional earth burn, where wood is stacked in a pile, covered in a layer of straw, and then sealed with a layer of earth, before being lit from a central chamber and left to burn over a series of days. The project culminated in the film, “Soul of Fire”, and led to the inspiration for our new collaboration.
Building on what is a shared love of charcoal, we’ve launched Soul of Fire to make this wonderful, sustainable material more readily accessible. Charcoal was one of the first drawing materials, and has been used over time for everything from cave drawings to preliminary sketches to highly finished drawings. The flexibility of the marks and tones makes it ideal for all sorts of projects, but we’ve realised that there’s a problem – commercially-made charcoal is only available in small sizes, and the finished product has become totally disconnected from what it actually is. How many people pick up a perfectly uniform piece of charcoal and connect it to the willow or other tree it came from?
We want to change all that.
The basis of our charcoal is that it can be used by anyone, no matter what their age or ability and no matter what project they’re working on. We want to make high-quality materials that reflect the nature of what they are. So, our charcoal isn’t uniform. It has the bumps and bends that we find in the branches. Our charcoal isn’t tiny. We process the whole tree, eliminating waste and resulting in much chunkier and more accessible pieces. And our charcoal isn’t ‘machine-perfect’. We process all our wood by hand, from cutting the trees, to packing the boxes.
We’ve set up Soul of Fire as a social business, reflecting our beliefs that natural materials should and can be accessible to all. The profits we make from selling the charcoal to galleries, shops, and art schools will be used to support our social mission – of making this wonderful material more readily available to schools and communities and of sharing the story of how it is made. By doing this, we hope to be able to replace some of the less sustainable but more accessible drawing materials and to introduce people to the joys of a more natural and connected way to making art.
Unlike other producers, we don’t grow our own willow for the charcoal or buy it in from other suppliers. Our sticks come from an area of woodland that was due to be commercially cleared, so we offered to cut and use the willow instead. What we don’t use for artists’ charcoal will go into BBQ charcoal, firewood, or another purpose. We’ll continue to source our wood in this way, to make sure it’s sustainable.
We see our charcoal as a way to honour tradition, to pay respect to and connect to the earth's resources. We want to share this with anyone who is interested in sustainable art making and who is passionate about their responsibility to our earth and climate.