The Art of Charcoal

Charcoal is a wonderful medium for art, used arguably since the very primal beginnings of art to create striking balances between light and darkness. If fire was one of the first inventions that set mankind apart from the beasts, the ashes and charcoal of those fires were just the natural start of art as well.

Types of charcoal include:

  • Compressed, which is the harder charcoal stick, with definition and darkness depending on the pressure that you put on the charcoal.
  • Soft, which you can use to create interesting smudge lines and layering with the right amount of pressure.
  • Pressed, which is more of a pencil form, for extreme amounts of detail that you can use in a drawing, just like its pencil counterpart. It can even be sharpened.
  • Vine, which is made from a willow tree’s stick. A softer charcoal, if not messy, similar to the “soft” category of the medium.
The Art of Charcoal

How to Use It:

  • Like a pencil. With the compressed and pressed varieties, you will get very fine amounts of definition, and with compressed in particular, your amount of pressure can be used to determine how light or dark your want your lines to be. With the pressed variety, you will get that very nice level of accuracy that can allow you to recreate figures with precision, which is wonderful for figures and models of all varieties.
  • Like a paint. With the softer types of charcoal, including the vine variety, you also get the ability to create larger, wider, and sometimes even thicker layering of charcoal, along with the option of choosing lighter pressings and drawings. As these types of charcoal or smudgier, they can be both great for creating a “foggy” look or area of shading, and for landscapes where the sky is being added in with very light amount of detail.
The Art of Charcoal

In Shades of the Real

With charcoal, you can draw some very realistic figures, as mentioned. Some artists have even created charcoal drawings that are nearly indistinguishable from black and white photography. With the versatility of the product, what you essentially have is a pencil that can be used in so many more ways, but only in one color, and its variations. For some artists, that means needing to improve on your ability to express light and shade, but for others, the concept of white and black balance can come naturally and readily, more so through charcoal than through other mediums.

The Art of Charcoal

To begin practicing with charcoal, you only need a sketch book, like you would with pencil, but be advised that you shouldn’t sandwich your softer, smudgier charcoal drawings between other sheets of paper; charcoal doesn’t really “dry” like a paint will, and even centuries later, can be smudged. That makes it somewhat harder to clean than a pencil, but it also makes for a more interesting, nuanced, and even historic way of creating art pieces that otherwise wouldn’t have the same level of depth.