A Perfect Beginner’s Guide to Charcoal Drawing

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Editor’s note: Learning about charcoal drawing requires you to  keep practicing until you develop the necessary skills. However, you won’t be able to achieve that if you don’t know where to begin. In this post by author Mary Brown, learn about the materials you’ll need, the types of charcoal to use, and indispensable tips for beginners to help you get started with charcoal drawings.

No artistic creation has lasted as long as Charcoal Art has. Boasting over millions of years of prevalance. The history of charcoal drawing is evident through the dramatic and affluent markings left in the initial ancient cave drawings of primitive humans, which were assumed to have been carved with the charcoal created from burnt sticks.

Charcoal is sometimes viewed as a preliminary medium for sketching, drawing or creating blueprints before paintings and due to the disadvantages of charcoal blowing or dusting off and being very messy – the base charcoal drawing were then painted over or was drawn over by another media.

Affordably versatile and readily available in any art supply store, this artistic medium is favored by many artists for the purposes of drawing. Able to produce lines with either a soft or strong quality, it allows artists to experiment with shading, texture and tone effortlessly.

This article focuses on the fundamentals of charcoal drawings:

Materials required

Charcoal sticks

  • Charcoal sticks.
  • White paper with thick texture.
  • A good white eraser or kneaded eraser to create tones, highlights and for corrections.
  • Blending stumps or paper towels for rubbing purpose.
  • A fixative sprays to prevent charcoal smudging, shift and fading.

Types of charcoal


Vine or Willow Charcoal: Usually carved out of the wood of a willow tree, the long thin charcoal is very popular with artists. Vine charcoal is dark gray, whereas the willow charcoal usually comes in dense black shade. Willow charcoal is available in various widths, sizes and due to its versatility many beginning canvas sketches are created with willow charcoal.

Compressed Charcoal: As compared to vine or willow charcoal, compressed charcoal is usually shaped into longer sticks of charcoal. It’s very hard, blurs, blends readily and tends to give the blackest of all shades. 

Charcoal Pencils: Charcoal pencils consist of compressed charcoal powder and a gum binder, which produces a fine, sharp line. These pencils come with a range from 9B to 9H and HB, the average middle range which is usually used for producing soft, lighter texture and can be procured in sets or separately.

Charcoal Crayons: Charcoal crayons often are used by artist caricaturists that are prepared with less binder and mixed with compressed charcoal to get the associated crayon effects.

Beginner’s Tips

1) Understanding shadows and tones

Before attempting to draw with charcoal, train your eyes to understand shadows and tones. Start observing objects around you and look out for the dark, medium tones and highlights. Shadows are an integral part of charcoal sketches and it is drawn on the paper in the first place. Study the position of the shadow of any highlighted object carefully.

2) Paper type

Most charcoal artists prefer grainy paper and art supply stores have such paper that is formulated specifically for charcoal drawing. Some art stores procure sample packs of different papers. It is better to use rough and grainy surfaces for drawing with charcoal as smooth papers won’t hold the carbon dust and will fail to give a subtle feel to the drawing.

3) Understanding Perspective

Perspective means a point of view or a spot from where one view things. It is significant to bear in mind that the horizontal line in most cases is usually at an eye level. An eye level refers to anything inline or at the height of your eye-level. Not being conscious of evaluating things at an eye level is one of the fundamental blunders committed in most of the drawings.

4) Avoid Smudging

There is no room for error as it’s not easy to erase charcoal quickly. Charcoal smears easily which can be both a blessing and a curse at a time. One can utilize smearing to his/her advantage for shading their drawings and if by mistake you rest your hand on part of the drawing, it’s possible that the pigments will stick to your hand and might smudge it to other parts of the drawing where you might not wish it. To avoid smudging, apply a spray fixative on the parts of the drawing that you have just finished.

5) Practice and Experiment

Your preliminary art works might very well be tragedies and if things don’t turn out the way you wished it to be, don’t agonize about it. Start a new one, as here perseverance is the key. There are no thumb rules in charcoal art. Employ distinct styles, strokes and techniques to achieve what you desire. To give a striking result to your drawing, you can also work in reverse. That’s a distinct and unique beauty of Charcoal Drawing as you can cover the entire paper with charcoal and then draw with an eraser. Just push yourself.

Hope this article will genuinely assist in instigating your curiosity towards Charcoal Drawings and will help you in all your future endeavors as an artist.


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