Studio Activity #1

Charcoal is a popular dry medium that allows an artist to create a wide range of both light and dark tones. The ability to blend, spread, and lift charcoal provides for a variety of artistic styles. This medium is available in several different formats, including vine and willow sticks, compressed charcoal sticks and charcoal pencils. Keep in mind, no matter the method, charcoal can create quite the mess so be prepared! Because of this, charcoal pencils are best for younger artists, while the charcoal sticks are better suited for middle and high school students.

Fun Fact: Charcoal, a component found in cave drawings, dates back over 25,000 years!

Now let’s experiment with charcoal!

Faber-Castell Charcoal Sketch Set from Michaels, $14.99.

The set contains:

-2 Pitt natural charcoal sticks (6-11 mm)

-1 Pitt natural charcoal pencil (medium)

-1 Pitt compressed charcoal pencil (soft)

-1 Pitt pastel pencil (white medium)

-1 kneadable art eraser

-1 blending stump

Charcoal Clouds using a cloud stencil and various forms of charcoal.
  1. The cloud was drawn using the Natural Charcoal Pencil in Medium. This pencil was easy to control and did not make much of a mess. The color was a little difficult to distribute evenly and took a few coats to attempt to cover the paper.
  2. The cloud was drawn using the Compressed Charcoal Pencil in Soft. This pencil created a little more charcoal dust than the first pencil, but was still easy to control, created clean lines and effectively covered the paper quickly.
  3. The cloud was drawn using one of the Natural Charcoal Sticks. Most noticeably, the stick felt different to hold in the hand than a traditional pencil, and would take some getting used. It produced quite a bit of charcoal dust and was not ideal for creating clean lines. However, it saturated the paper quickly in a uniform black color.
  4. The cloud was drawn using the Natural Charcoal Pencil in Medium and then I used the Blending Stump to smooth the charcoal, followed with adding the Pastel Pencil White in Medium on portions of the cloud. The blending stump helped to resolve the issue of the medium charcoal pencil appearing gritty and unblended. The addition of the white pencil allows for variations in tone.
  5. The cloud was drawn using the Natural Charcoal Sticks, followed by applying the Kneadable Art Eraser to remove areas of charcoal to try and create the same effect in cloud #4. The eraser is a great resource to help clean stray charcoal and also allowing for variations in tone by the removal of charcoal, as opposed to additional layering.

My experimentation with charcoal, a still life of my favorite “J” coffee mug.
Easy to build up layersVery messy, especially the sticks
Using only black and white creates good tonal rangeCharcoal stick can be tricky to handle
Ideal medium for artists who who aren’t as comfortable working with precise, fine linesThe artwork can feel “unfinished” because you can keep adding, blending or erasing it
The eraser and stump allow for fun experimentation with charcoalBlack, white and gray can feel a little limiting depending on the subject matter
It’s charcoal!It’s charcoal!

Want to learn how to draw with charcoal? Check out the below video!

Thanks for learning about charcoal with me!