Learn to draw with Charcoal

Charcoal is usually burnt organic material like wood. Typically charcoal is used on paper to bring out a more dramatic effect as compared to the graphite pencils. This is achieved due to the dark black shades brought out by using charcoal.

Charcoal for art usage is available in the market in different forms- Compressed charcoal like pencils, softer charcoal called vine charcoal sticks ,uncompressed form like stumping powder and pigmented charcoal(white and other colours). Below I have listed the materials I have used in my project –

  1. Paper – I have used the MontMarte A3 size sketch book suitable for pencil/charcoal sketches. Its important to use a soft textured paper because if the paper is too smooth, the charcoal wont stick and if the paper is too textured, you have a hard time bringing out the details.
  2. Vine charcoal – This is uncompressed charcoal in the form of sticks. Also called Willow charcoal. I’m using these sticks instead of charcoal stumping powder.
  3. Charcoal pencils – This is compressed charcoal in the form of a pencil. It comes in soft, medium and hard densities. Soft pencils give darker gradations whereas hard ones give lighter gradations.
  4. Kneadable/Hard Erasers – Kneadable erasers are soft, pliable erasers that can be squeezed to any shape to erase off tricky areas. Harder erasers are good for erasing off charcoal while revealing highlights.
  5. Blending Stumps – Used for blending smaller detailed areas. This comes in different sizes, so choose the appropriate one based on the blending area.
  6. Paper Towel/ Tissue paper – for blending larger areas
  7. Stumping Powder – Charcoal in powdered form, used for covering larger areas without any pencil marks
  8. Fixative spray (optional)-Spray fix helps to protect a drawing once it’s finished by preventing smearing. It “fixes” or sets the media onto the paper.


To begin with, sketch the outline of your picture using a graphite HB pencil. Make sure the sketch is light and do not apply more pressure on the surface , because charcoal doesn’t stick on the pencil outlines. I have sketched a heritage sculpture of Buddha, you can choose any picture in black’n’ white for your initial sketches, as the shades are clearly defined


Once you are happy with your sketch, start with using vine charcoal to smudge over the surface, use it over and over again if you want a darker shade. Use a cotton swab or a paper napkin to smudge larger surfaces. Make sure to keep a paper under your palm to avoid rubbing off the charcoal.


After you have completed the shading of the face, for very dark and smooth gradation, use the blending sticks. Scrape off the vine charcoal to use the powder , roll the stick on the powder and then use it on the paper as shown in the image. The advantage of using the stick is the clear definition that can be achieved


After the basic shading of the picture, to highlight the dark areas, use the charcoal pencils. In the sample pic, I have used the pencils to emphasize the facial features and hair.


To complete the sketch, use the vine charcoal sticks to smudge and prepare your background to a light/dark grey based on the picture you are drawing. Darken the background areas where the light is more on the face and keep the background light where the face is dark. This kind of contrast makes the completed sketch more visually appealing.



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