March 10, 2023

How to Draw with Charcoal


by Daniel Wiseman

Charcoal is a very popular medium to draw with and provides extra versatility in value, lines, and technique that you can’t get with graphite. In this blog, I’ll talk about how to draw with charcoal and get your hands dirty quickly and easily! Check out Ignite Studio’s Charcoal Drawing Kit to get started.

The Basics of How to Draw with Charcoal

There are various kinds of charcoal available to use in our Charcoal Drawing Kit. Each type of charcoal is made of different compounds and have different advantages. For instance, willow charcoal is composed of willow branches that have been burned into a hard stick. This makes it easy to erase since there is no need for a binding agent to hold it together. Compressed charcoal is compressed charcoal powder that is held together by gum binder. It’s much larger than willow charcoal, but more difficult to erase.

Other tools in the kit include:

  • Kneaded Eraser
  • Blending stump
  • Pencil Sharpeners

If you want to learn more about the Charcoal Drawing Kit, check out our tutorial video that gives a nice overview of what the kit is all about!

Best Approach to Using Charcoal

Charcoal is great at getting really dark values, but can easily be mismanaged in the hands of a beginner. So I encourage you to try a few exercises before getting started.

One important exercise is drawing a value scale–from dark to light. For this exercise it’s best to go from dark to mid tone to white. And then draw the shades in between each one. This makes it easier to discern when to decrease value.

Additionally, charcoal is a messy medium. Keeping your drawing clean of unintended smudges and marks should be a priority when drawing. Because of this, I recommend using an easel paired with a drawing board to reduce the chance of your hands and arms touching the drawing. You can also lay another sheet of paper down between your hands and the drawing canvas to reduce smudges and marks too.

Reductive Drawing

Typically when we talk about drawing, you might think about rendering your subject using lines, shapes, and shading. This process is known as additive drawing. With reductive drawing, the process works the other way around.

For reductive drawing, you cover your canvas with your drawing medium of choice (usually charcoal) which will serve as a mid-tone. Then you take your kneaded eraser to erase out your subject!

You can still use your charcoal or graphite pencil to create your darker values or even to outline your subject before going in with the eraser.

This approach to drawing is very similar to the painting process, as you create values and use both additive and reductive techniques to render your final piece. If you haven’t begun working with paint just yet, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start!

Check out this video by nobriga as he demonstrates the reductive drawing process!

Take Away

Charcoal is a versatile drawing tool that excels in creating dark values. The texture of charcoal can range between dusty and soft to scratchy and hard. It results in a nice finish that makes your drawing feel more like a painting. Graphite results in a more shiny and metallic finish so if having a matte and rich finish to your drawing is something you want, charcoal is the way to go!

Be sure to check out the Charcoal Drawing Kit the next time you’re in the studio and try all the various ways you can draw with charcoal. Happy Making!