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Charcoal Drawing Tips

Pragya T
Do you wish to try out charcoal as a drawing medium? Then, here are some useful charcoal drawing tips that you can make use of.
Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.
― Henri Matisse
The thing about charcoal drawing which differentiates it from other media of drawings, like pencil shading, brush work, or mechanical pen shading, is that it gives a very soft and subtle effect. Also, a charcoal sketch does not fade away with time, if cared for properly.
You will see many portraits or drawings done by charcoal, as a soft drawing technique is required for portraits, which is naturally present in it. Drawing with charcoal is not difficult, but if you wish to do detailed drawings, then you need to practice different skills to get the proportions and shapes properly.

Required Materials

Primarily, you need charcoal sticks and paper for this art form, both of which come in different varieties.

Select a paper with a thick texture so that erasing or rubbing does not tear it.

 You can buy vine uncompressed charcoal, also known as willow charcoal, or use compressed charcoal that looks like graphite and comes in a pencil or stick form with soft or hard shapes. 
 A good white eraser and kneaded eraser are also required to create tones and highlights, and also to make corrections. 

 Blending stumps are good for adding minute details. You can also use small pieces of paper towels for rubbing the drawings.

Tips for Beginners

Understand Tones

Before attempting to draw with charcoal, you need to train your eye for understanding tones. This is the first lesson when it comes to shading with charcoal. Start by simply observing objects around you. Hold an object near you, and look out for three tones, viz., dark tones, medium tones, and highlights that are shown in a sketch as white.

Understand Shadows

Shadows are an integral part of charcoal sketches, as that is what is drawn on the paper in the first place. Suppose you are looking at an object that is illuminated by a ceiling light.
The light is directly on top of the object in this case, and it will have few highlights that are tiny spots on the object, which are the brightest at the rim or near the top. You will see some light tones at the top of the object, medium tones around the middle region, and dark tones at the bottom.
Finally, there will be a shadow somewhere on the surface on which it is placed.

Type of Paper

Charcoal will change its appearance depending on the type of paper you use for drawing. Smooth papers will not be able to hold the carbon dust and will fail to give a subtle feel to the drawing. So, it is better to use rough and grainy surfaces for drawing with charcoal. This will also make it easier for you to shade the drawing.

Avoid Smearing

Charcoal smears easily, which can be a curse or a blessing. You can use smearing to your advantage for shading your drawing, but this can also spell doom if you cannot help resting your hand on the page while drawing. In such situations, you can tape the paper to a wall and draw vertically. 
If you are not comfortable with drawing vertically, use a fixative on the parts of the drawing that you have finished to avoid smudging. If you cannot find a fixative, any hair spray will work just fine.

Try Unconventional Techniques

Most people think that drawing with charcoal is done just like pencil sketching, but you can also work backwards. You can cover a whole paper with charcoal and then "draw" with an eraser. This will give a striking effect to your drawing.


There are no rules in art, so you can experiment with various techniques in charcoal drawing and come up with what works best for you. Try different styles, strokes, and techniques, and create different types of drawings that are unique.


Even though charcoal drawing techniques are relatively simple, you cannot expect to master this art overnight. Practice makes a man perfect, and this also applies to drawing with charcoal. So, try different styles of drawing with this versatile material and practice them to come up with something original.
These were the various charcoal art tips. So, gather your supplies and start practicing them. First, make some simple still life sketches, and as you gather more skills, make portraits. You can find many drawing tips and video tutorials online that will help you learn the art of drawing with charcoal.