Want to try your hand at charcoal drawing or brush up on your skills? We’ve pulled together our top tips for working with this versatile medium and getting the most out of your sticks and pencils.
1. Understand the different types of charcoal
Did you know that charcoal comes in different types? Below is a rundown of each one and what they’re good for.
Willow charcoal sticks: This type of charcoal is made from natural willow wood. It’s generally quite soft which makes it great for free flowing strokes and blending.
Woodless charcoal pencils: Woodless (compressed) charcoal pencils are slightly harder than willow and create a dark, rich mark. You can use them for covering large areas or creating fine lines.
Charcoal pencils: If you need to create linework, charcoal pencils will come in handy. They're available in a variety of hardness levels to give you different results.
White charcoal: Want to mix it up a bit? White charcoal can be used to create beautiful drawings on toned paper (such as brown and black). You can also use it in combination with dark charcoal to create highlights and build depth.
2. Use paper with a rough surface
To get the best results from charcoal, a lot of artists use paper that has a rough texture (more tooth). This helps give your charcoal something to “grip” to. You can also use texture gesso to create an ideal surface.
3. Sharpen your charcoal with a hobby knife
Since charcoal is more fragile than graphite, we’d recommend using a hobby knife to sharpen it (not a regular sharpener). Use a new blade for best results and carefully slide the knife away from yourself along the pencil tip. Check out the image above if you’re not sure how to hold it. Want to create a finer tip? Grab some fine-tooth sandpaper from your local hardware store and gently sand your charcoal back until you’re happy with it.
4. Use a cotton glove to prevent smudging
Charcoal can get a little bit messy, so some artists like to wear a cotton glove while they work. This helps to stop charcoal from smudging across your drawing from the underside of your hand.
5. Blend your charcoal with a stump or tortillon
Don’t want to get your hands dirty? Pick up some blenders and tortillons to help create smooth transitions. You could also try using a rag, paint brush or your fingers to create different effects.
6. Regularly take a step back
Getting a different perspective can help you to spot areas of improvement and see what’s working really well. So take a step back from your work every now-and-then to get the full picture.
7. Create highlights with an eraser
Having an eraser handy is great for when you want to add highlights, remove mistakes or lighten tone. We use a kneadable eraser because you can mould it into different shapes, such a fine or broad tip, for different techniques.
8. Combine charcoal with pastels and colour pencils
Want to add a dash of colour? Charcoal works great in combination with pastels, pencils and other dry media.
9. Keep it light
When you’re starting out with charcoal drawing it can be easy to go too dark from the beginning. We’d recommend starting with your light areas first and slowly building up the darker tones. It’s easier to make it darker than it is to make dark areas lighter.
10. Protect your work behind glass
Now that your masterpiece is done, it’s time to put it on display! To help protect your charcoal drawing, you can frame it behind glass using a standard picture frame from your local store.