The Art Beat guide to charcoal drawing
All you need to know about Charcoal
Charcoal is a popular tool among artists. Whether drawing a portrait or sketching a mountain scene, it lends a unique feel, form, and texture to your art.
Charcoal broadly comes in two types: vine and compressed. And depending on your expertise, approach, and what you are creating, you may choose either one or a combination of both to make your art. Vine charcoal creates soft, light strokes while compressed charcoal is used for darker, more intense marks.
It’s helpful to make your initial outlines using light strokes with a delicate hand. The trick is to learn sensitivity and control. We recommend using vine charcoal pencils for this, as they are great at helping beginner students get used to the medium. You may move to darker marks once you are clear about the look and arrangement of your sketch, and the general mood and atmosphere of your drawing.
But before you start drawing, get all the materials. Keep your pencils, sketchbook, kneaded eraser, fixative spray, and other tools ready in one place. You’ll need them in each step of your drawing process. We’ll take you through all the essential art supplies you’ll need for charcoal drawing in the sections below.
And always remember that creating art is a process and a personal journey, so keep experimenting with as many materials and tools as possible. Each has its own function and gives a unique texture to your sketch. What matters most is what you want to express through your art, so you can use the right tools to bring that to life.
At Art Beat, our friendly teachers guide students to draw creatively using charcoal through a step-by-step process, making it fun, informative, and easy.
All you need to
start your charcoal art.
Learning a new medium can be challenging, but once you have all the materials you need and understand their characteristics and functions, you are sure to have a ton of fun while drawing. To make art with charcoal, get the following materials:
Charcoal pencils and sticks
Charcoal pencils are available in different varieties and grades. Get all of them to experiment with various tonal values for your sketching and shading.
Art Beat recommends: Charcoal pencils from Camlin
When drawing with charcoal, using the right kind of sketchbook matters. Choose hardcover books that are heavy, textured, and acid-free.
Art Beat recommends: Sketchbooks/drawing papers from Brustro or Menorah
Ideal for charcoal drawing, kneaded erasers can be easily stretched into different shapes, giving you more flexibility and control while erasing.
Art Beat recommends: Kneadable art eraser by Brustro
Charcoal is dusty and crumbly, so it can create quite a mess. A fixative spray can help ‘fix’ charcoal particles onto the surface and preserve your art.
Art Beat recommends: Artists’ Fixative by Arfina
These are tightly rolled papers that can help you smudge, shade, blend and smear charcoal. Use them to define sharper edges or smooth out areas.
Art Beat recommends: Paper stumps by Isomars
Removable magic tape
Easy to apply and remove, this tape helps your paper stick onto the surface. It also prevents charcoal bits from entering areas where it is taped.
Art Beat recommends: Magic tape from Scotch
Always use a good quality sharpener to sharpen your charcoal pencils. We normally ask our students to use manual sharpeners over electric ones.
Art Beat recommends: Sharpeners from Staedtler
Make your mark with these simple tips and tricks
Here are a few things to keep in mind while creating art using charcoal:
Visualise the main idea before drawing. It can help you minimize mistakes.
Start simple, like shading a ball, until you get a handle on the techniques.
Learn to work with tonal values to have control over sketching and shading.
Remember to test all the tools, so you know which ones work best for you.
Avoid touching your art while drawing to prevent charcoal from spreading.
Did you know?
Use of charcoal as a medium for art dates back to as early as the 17th century. During that period, charred sticks from fire were known to be used for making cave paintings in France. Later in the 20th century, charcoal became a widely recognised artistic medium. Albrecht Durer was one of the first known artists to use charcoal as a primary medium for art.
See what our students are making
You can do the same! Whether you are a beginner in art, a hobby artist, or a designer who wants to explore a new medium, we’ve got you covered with our online classes.
We’ll take you through the materials you need to get started, from charcoal pencils, kneaded erasers to fixative sprays, and more.
We’ll show you many different ways to hold a charcoal pencil, so you can experiment and choose what comes most naturally to you.
We’ll teach you all about lights, shadows, perspective, and many techniques
of sketching and shading to help you create magic with art.
We’ll give you tips and tricks and regular feedback to help you improve your artistic skills and progress on a day-to-day basis.
"When it comes to charcoal drawing, keeping it simple is the trick. Some theory here and exercises there, and before you know it, you will have mastered this medium.”
~ Namratha G N, Founder | Art Beat
Questions? We’ve got you covered!
Are charcoal pencils erasable?
Yes. We recommend keeping a good quality kneaded eraser and a regular eraser handy when you are creating art using a charcoal pencil or stick.
What is the cost of a charcoal pencil?
Price of a charcoal pencil varies from brand to brand. You can get a complete set of 12 pencils at Rs.400 to Rs.1200 online. Choose a brand that works best for you.
How do you preserve charcoal drawings?
You can use a fixative spray to prevent the charcoal dust from smearing. Spray lightly multiple times from about 2 feet away to preserve your art. Avoid exposing your drawing to direct sunlight and remember to frame it once you’re done. Believe it or not, your charcoal sketches can last for years if you take care of them properly.
What's the difference between charcoal and graphite?
Both charcoal and graphite are great drawing tools, each with their own unique qualities and functions. Charcoal has a flakey, non-uniform texture, so it tends to crumble easily and leaves dust on the surface. For this reason, it is often used for creating expressive and dramatic pieces of art. On the other hand, graphite is smooth and shiney, has a uniform structure and adheres to the surface when creating art.
How do you use white charcoal pencil?
Artists use their white charcoal pencil in combination with their dark charcoal pencil. Both colours blend together easily, helping you experiment with their tonal values, adjust their texture, and create precise highlights for your art. You may even use a brush to blend them in order to create smooth, even gradations.