Charcoal is a versatile medium that can be used to create a wide range of drawings and illustrations. However, it can be tricky to work with, especially for beginners. In this article, we’ll share six tips and techniques that will help you master charcoal and create beautiful, expressive drawings.
One thing to remember is that charcoal will smudge and stick to your hands. Try to work towards yourself. If you do rest your hand on the paper the charcoal will stick to your hands and be smudged back onto the paper in areas you didnt want it.
Try to work without resting your hand on the paper. You can use a Mahl stick or something similar to rest your hand on, slightly above the surface of the paper.
Introduction to Charcoal
- Charcoal is a versatile medium that can be used to create a wide range of drawings and illustrations.
- Charcoal is made from compressed charcoal dust and comes in several different forms, including sticks, pencils, and blocks.
- Charcoal is great for creating dramatic, expressive drawings, but it can be tricky to work with, especially for beginners.
Tip #1: Start with a Sketch
Before you begin working with charcoal, it’s often easier to start with a sketch. Use a good strong fibrous paper if you can. It will be stronger and so is less likely to suffer damage if you are rubbing and blending the charcoal. The fibres give the charcoal a textured surface too, which makes it easier for the charcoal to stick.
- Sketching the basic design first allows you to plan out your drawing to get the composition right. Once you get a feel for the overall look you want you can use the charcoal to finish the drawing.
- Whatever grade of pencil you choose, use it lightly. I usually use a H grade or 2H pencil for the initial sketches but a graphite stick can also be used. Both will be easier to erase than charcoal.
Tip #2: Use the Right Tools
Charcoal comes in several different forms, including sticks, pencils, and blocks. Each form of charcoal has its own unique characteristics and can be used for different effects.
- Sticks are great for creating broad, sweeping strokes
- blocks are great for creating fine, detailed lines.
- Pencils are good for a more controlled and precise line.
Tip #3: Work on Tonal Values
Tonal values are the different levels of lightness or darkness in your drawing. Understanding and controlling these tones is as important in drawing as mixing colors is when you are painting.
- Creating a range of tonal values is key to creating a sense of depth and dimension in your drawing.
- Practice by creating a tonal chart and use different methods of shading to create the tones that you want.
- Use different charcoal and techniques to create a complete range of tonal values from hardly perceptible greys to dark solid blacks.
Tip #4: Blend and Smudge
Blending and smudging are techniques that allow you to create smooth, gradated areas where the tones vary gradually from darker to lighter.
- Use your finger or a blending tool to blend and smudge charcoal. Using a clean, soft cotton rag around your finger can stop a lot of mess too.
- Be careful not to overdo it. Too much blending can make your drawing look flat. You want to control the charcoal and the tones it creates and not end up with a flat grey colored paper that is no use for anything else.
Tip #5: Experiment with Textures
Charcoal is great for creating a wide range of textures, from smooth and silky to rough and gritty. The more texture the surface of the paper has the more you can use that in your drawing.
- Experiment with different paper, tools and techniques to create different textures in your drawing.
- Using the side of a charcoal stick to create rough, grainy textures is a great way to color large areas. You can still use a blending tool to smooth out any sections you want to appear smoother. Using a light fan brush to gently blend the heavy layer of charcoal can create beautiful silky textures.
Tip #6: Practice, Practice, Practice
- The key to mastering charcoal as with anything else is to practice. The more you practice the better you will get. You should learn something new from every drawing.
- Take the time to experiment with different techniques and tools and find what works best for you. We all have our own styles and it is learning how to express your own style that is most important.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as they can be a valuable learning experience. Without mistakes we would never learn, and remember, one persons mistake is another persons revelation.
Charcoal is a medium that can be used to create a wide range of drawings and illustrations. It’s a very versatile medium and it can be used to create dramatic, expressive drawings. However, it can be tricky to work with and messy, especially for beginners.
If you want to keep your charcoal sketches in the best condition you should frame them properly and use a fixative spray to seal the surface of the paper. Using acid free paper will also help to stop fading.
By following these six tips and techniques, you’ll be well on your way to mastering charcoal and creating beautiful, expressive drawings in no time.