The Basics of Charcoal Painting


Charcoal is an excellent medium that can be used to style drawings or with a more detailed technique suited to naturalistic art. People generally use either vine charcoal which is available in the form of charred sticks or compressed charcoal available as sticks or crayons in the market.

Charcoal paintings can stand on its own as a genre of art, but the medium is often seen in a supporting role to establish an impact for oil or acrylic paintings.

Here are some of the standard range of materials that you could use for drawing with charcoal.

  1. Charcoal Sticks
  2. Charcoal Pencils
  3. Charcoal Crayons
  4. Sharpening material
  5. Erasers

Here are the details of each material you need:

  1. Charcoal Sticks: The charcoal stick made from grapevine or willow is called vine charcoal. It does not require a binding agent. It is a brittle medium which produces a dark velvety line that smudges easily, making it ideal for shading techniques. The impression from these sticks is light and quickly erasable.
  1. Charcoal Pencils: These pencils are a compressed form of charcoal which is bound with clay to give it a pencil like structure. Charcoal pencils are available in three tones, dark, medium and light, providing the artist with a wide range of grades. It is less messy than vine charcoal and using the pencils can be useful for detailing work.
  1. Charcoal Crayons: Charcoal crayons are composed of powdered charcoal mixed with a wax, clay or gum binder. They are available in three different tones. The darkest pastels are soft and smudgy as they contain more charcoal than the adhesive, making them more suitable for bold and dramatic drawing. The lightest crayons, which have less charcoal, are harder and better for drawing cleaner and sharper lines.
  1. Sharpeners: The safest tool for sharpening charcoal pencils or crayons is a double barrel pencil sharpener. These sharpeners bring pencils to a fine point. You can also buy Pastel Pencil Sharpeners that are specifically designed to cut at a shallow angle to prevent their soft cores from breaking.
  1. Erasers: We can give light toning effect to our paintings by erasing the layers of charcoal from the paper. Erasers are typically used to get a smooth even background. It is instrumental when you are unsure of what you want to paint.

Select the Correct Tone of the Paper

The colour of paper that you pick for charcoal and chalk drawing is crucial as it will impact the balance of the grades. Preferably, choose a mid-toned paper that can suit well between your darkest charcoal and brightest chalk marks.

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When drawing with charcoal and chalk, you balance three elements to create an image:

  1. The Dark Tones- the charcoal.
  2. The Light Tones- the eraser.
  3. The Mid-Tones- the paper.

There is one paper called Sugar paper, which is available in a variety of mid-tone colours, is both cheap and ideal for charcoal and chalk drawings.

Also published on Medium.