Artist Resources: Charcoal for Drawing

Charcoal is a black, porous, carbon material -- the residue from burned or roasted wood.  Bone and some other vegetation can also create types of charcoal or pigment blacks.  Charcoal is 80-98% carbon plus some ash and moisture.  Charcoal used for drawing is often willow or other soft woods.  

Willow charcoal
Artists can purchase willow charcoal in vary sizes or find it in pressed sticks or pencils, which is made from lamp black pigment.  The willow charcoal is a fine material for underdrawings as it is light and can be erased easily.  Pressed charcoal is a velvety, rich black that works quite well as a drawing material on its own.  It can also tinted with color for variations on the drawing material.  Charcoal can be used as a pigment, though some types of wood produce weak blacks, and the hue of the ground pigment can vary greatly based on the organic material used to produced the charcoal.

Charcoal has been used since ancient times as one of the first drawing materials, and since it has wonderful lightfast properties, works done in charcoal will last for decades.  Charcoal is best used on a surface with some tooth so the grit can hold the particulate.  It can be easily fixed to the surface with a spray fixative or acrylic dispersion medium.  

Even though Charcoal is usually a dry medium, it has tremendous blending abilities, with or without the use of a stump (a paper blending tool).  If you want to look into brushes for blending, try our IPC line of brushes.  Charcoal and white chalk together make for some of the most beautiful drawings.  

In the Hague Woods by Simon de Vlieger
black chalk with grey wash and white on blue laid paper, collection NGA
For detailed instructions on making your own fine art charcoal, take a look at "The Craftsman's Handbook" by Cennino d'Andrea Cennini, written in the early 15th century.  He explains a thorough technique of preparing the wood, sealing it in an airtight container, and roasting overnight.  

Do you use charcoal or a form of charcoal in your work?  If so, let us see your work and tell us about it.

Keep Painting,

For more brush information, check out the Dynasty Brush website.