At the art supply shop, I found some natural willow charcoals. They are rather lovely - unlike the manufactured pressed charcoal, they look like natural sticks with knotholes and wiggles.
I tried them out by drawing some landscapes from holiday snaps. Top to bottom: Welsh hillside, Tintern Abbey with God Beams, rooftops of Istanbul.
I also got some sticks of pastel. Goodness, they are bright, crumbly tricky things! I'll spare you the worst ones where it all went horribly wrong and I bailed out swearing. This was one of the early attempts that I did actually finish. I quite like the smudgy beach background but you can see that I really haven't got the hang of drawing with the fat flaky sticks. Mollydog (ginger) is particularly stiff and oddly shaped.
I decided that something with more shades and less fiddly detail might be the way to go, so as there were cows about, I drew a cow. If you are wondering why her horns are so asymmetrical, that wasn't me. That was her: cow with the crumpled horn! I have got her eyes a bit squonk though.
Possibly the answer to the detail thing is just use bigger paper. This picture of a grown up Cottia (from Eagle of the Ninth) on a horse in autumn was on A3, and I quite like it although my brain keeps insisting it must be a picture from the Wild West because of the colour scheme. I have a story that this fits into but whether I'm going to actually get it finished and include this scene, who knows. Something not quite there about the horse's front legs possibly.
I was quite pleased with this attempted portrait of a grown up Cottia. It doesn't quite look like the random photo that I chose as a model, but I think it does look like an actual person. Eyes a bit too big probably and I think her mouth is too far down her chin, but still.
Click for bigger version
Then I decided I would have a go at Cunoval (Esca's father from Eagle of the Ninth) in charcoal. With a hound, of course. And a torc. At some point I am going to write a story about Cunoval's part in valiantly vanquishing the horrible Ninth Legion.
Philmophlegm feels he looks too much like Lionel Richie, but I maintain that this is because Lionel Richie looks too much like the Dying Gaul. Again, huge eyes. I have real problems making eyes the right size.