On Sunday, June 3, 2018, from 9:30 AM – 2:00 PM, Pastimes for a Lifetime proudly hosted a charcoal portrait workshop by renown artist, Zin Lim.

Guests were treated to a lecture and demo followed by a fun workshop in which concepts learned were applied.

Zin began the event by sharing best practices with charcoal. Thick willow charcoal is used first, saving the thin vine charcoal and finely whittled charcoal pencil for the final details at the end of a project. A sandpaper block sharpens the charcoal. He smoothes the surface of the charcoal by rubbing it on paper until an even consistency is achieved. The resultant charcoal dust is saved for laying-in tones.


Zin Lim with Sandpaper


We enjoyed learning Zin’s method of holding the charcoal.
1. Do not hold the charcoal like a pencil.
2. Use your full arm, or mostly the shoulder, like the martial arts.
3. Feel the movement of the arm.
4. Pull down while holding your fingers in the same position to produce even skinny lines.
5. Angle charcoal 90 degrees for the thickest line.
6. Use your fingers to support the charcoal, blending edges where there’s transition.

He shared with us that his Martial Arts studies over the years have influenced his charcoal strokes. He also likened his technique to that of wielding a violin bow.

“I let the tools follow my eye path,” said Zin.


Zin Lim Demo at Pastimes for a Lifetime
Zin Lim Charcoal Demo on Lines


We learned how the paper affects the tone or value. Smooth paper produces lighter values. Rougher paper produces darker values. Zin prefers a 400 series paper for his charcoal work.


Zin Lim Discusses Paper at Pastimes for a Lifetime workshop


Zin Lim limits his compositions to five values:
1. Paper value – highlights
2. One step darker than the paper – use charcoal dust
3. Midtone – smooth or textured
4. Dark – no blending
5. Darkest – press hard to pop an element

He compared the five values to the music staff. He uses a light key of 5 values and a dark key of 5 values.


Zin Lim and the 5 Tones


He discussed the four Edges he uses:
1. Hard sharp edge
2. Firm edge
3. Softer edge
4. Lost edge – shadows of the face are almost the same value for transitions.


Zin Lim Demo


Next, Zin expounded on the difference between Expressionism and Realism in portrait drawing.
Realism, Zin clarified, focuses on the accuracy of the line. It is the process of moving the image to the paper. It is about capturing the outer appearance of the subject.

With Expressionism or Expressive Drawing, the composition is senior to realism. It’s not about capturing the outer appearance. Instead, the composition expresses the message, revealing how you see or view the subject. It is 20% accuracy, 80% emotion.

Zin asks, “What motivates you?” According to Zin, your type of music, sports, etc., gives direction to your composition. You capture the energy of the model with one’s own rhythm.

Beauty is not from the reference. It includes your vision and message. You are not merely capturing the likeness but also your empathy and interpretation. You reveal the energy of the model using your own rhythm.

For Expressionism, line variety is important. Hard lines are for bony features. Soft lines are for soft fleshy features and hair. It’s as if you were touching the person while capturing the softness or hardness of the areas of the head.

Zin starts a drawing as follows:
1. Start dark in order to determine how much lighter it needs to be.
2. Choose an emotion or statement to express. Write a key word on the sketch paper.

The Demo:


Fun Fact: Zin Lim does 20 minutes of sketching in the morning to start his day.

A lunch break was then followed by a hands-on group workshop with individual critiques and timely feedback. It was ideal for artists and students who have studied realism drawing and were looking for a more loose, intuitive and spontaneous approach to drawing.


Not having touched charcoal portrait drawing since the 1980s, I dove straight in. Thanks to Zin Lim’s guidance, my muscle memory was resurrected.


The reaction to Zin Lim’s demo and workshop was overwhelmingly positive. One guest had driven up from San Deigo to attend! For those who missed it, Pastimes will be looking into hosting more Zin Lim programs at the studio. Stay tuned!
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Special thanks to our office manager, Jessica Lee Sanders for her editorial and photography contributions.

To learn more about artist Zin Lim, visit his website.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please enjoy sharing it with others.
Were you inspired? Please share your inspiration in the comment section below. Thank you!

For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website or Facebook page.
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