Choosing and Using Art Charcoal

Charcoal Sticks for Drawing

Charcoal: The clue’s in the name with this one – it is simply burnt wood and it’s been around since cavemen picked up bits of charred wood from the fire and started to draw on the walls. However, to achieve an even consistency of mark, the wood needs to be evenly charred throughout by heating in an air-tight container – whether that be a clay pot or a modern kiln – and there are certain woods that make for the best charcoal. In the UK, that tends to be willow whist in America, vine is commonly used.

Charcoal is usually one of the first drawing media that Art Students get to grips with and will commonly be found in Life Classes due to the immediacy and versatility of the marks that can be made. A pose can be captured quickly with a few strokes, using different thicknesses of charcoal and varying pressure to make heavy black to light grey tonal effects and varying, fluid lines from bold to soft to define a form. Perfect for large area work, the media encourages a student to work big, stand away from the surface and look at the whole as opposed to getting distracted by the detail and allow the marks to be made instinctively and with confidence.

Part of a life drawing in Charcoal

Chalk and white pastel provide the perfect accompaniment to charcoal for highlights. Alternatively, highlights can be picked out by erasing away the charcoal with either a plastic or kneadable putty rubber. Charcoal is available in ‘Tree’ thick sticks, ‘Scene Painters’, medium and thin sticks, charcoal pencils and compressed charcoal which is carbonised matter mixed with a binder that makes a very black material that does not crumble as easily as pure charcoal.

A life drawing using Pastel Pencils, Conte Pencils and chalk

Other drawing media, apart from pencil and charcoal, include Conte sticks, Conte pencils and a range of oil and dry pastel pencils from such manufacturers as Faber Castell and Cretacolor. These sticks and pencils contain high quantities of pigment mixed with a suitable binder that bring either a more subtle effect to a charcoal-style sketch or allow the artist to introduce more detail.