Ron Weil was born in New York and grew up in Detroit. He studied economics at the University of Michigan followed by graduate work at Berkeley in both economics and in a self-developed interdisciplinary study in urban geography. He has been a teacher at the high school and college levels as well as a real estate developer, urban planner, and community worker. He has made a living as a laborer, cab driver, and poker player.

Weil has been drawing since childhood, and his creative impulses have frequently caused his career plans to jump the track. While studying economics in grad school at Berkeley he took a year off to devote himself exclusively to black-and-white photography (he’s always trying to figure out where his love of gray came from). He experimented with double exposure and printing techniques like solarization. After finishing school he spent a few years using silkscreen to make political posters (some of these got reproduced with favorable notice in Mother Jones). “Art kept popping up like a mushroom in the woods,” he says.

In 2011, after the death of his wife, he dropped other pursuits and gave his full attention to art. His first effort was an enormous drawing on paper, a phantasmagoria expressing his feelings at the time. He created pieces that made use of the materials of his wife’s sickroom. He took up pastels again, as he had often done in the past; but as had also happened before, he found himself lured away from color by the challenge of monochrome—gray, black, and white.

One day, while shopping for charcoal sticks, Weil discovered powdered charcoal and powdered graphite. He experimented with both but dropped graphite because it was too easy to make something pretty: “Graphite has its own inherent beauty that has nothing to do with me, only the material” he says. “It felt like cheating, a way to create beautiful stuff without soul.”

So he opted to work with the more challenging powdered charcoal. He developed a set of tools and discovered for himself a repertoire of techniques using natural forces (air and water) to produce images that, though produced rapidly, seem the result of slow natural processes. He works outdoors and has even tried to use the rain to assist in image-making. He says, “I like the patterned randomness created by natural forces, but what really thrills me is the magic of discovery and surprise that comes from making work with this medium."