Charcoal Types By Form: Sticks vs. Pencils

You might already know that charcoal is made either of natural branches heated in a kiln or from charred wood dust mixed with binders (I’ve got a post on the subject here).

Today I want to tell you about the differences between these two forms.

Classic Sticks

Originally, artists worked with charcoal lumps and sticks. In the Renaissance, they were a popular tool for preliminary sketching.

Nowadays the traditional form of that material is also in great demand. Many draughtsmen create beautiful pieces using it as a primary medium.

Sticks are irreplaceable when it’s necessary to hatch a large area, shading some elements to increase the effect of depth. Since charcoal is intended for drawing fast, relatively big pictures, such a need very often arises.

You can break down a stick and get a sharp edge, then you will be able to highlight contours or fine details.

One negative aspect is that charcoal in such a form tends to leave dirty prints everywhere.

Modern Special Pencils

Charcoal encased in cedar doesn’t make a mess at all.

Pencils of that type are sharpened in seconds (however, remember that compressed loose material and binders are still more fragile than common graphite; if you want to use the pencils frequently, purchase a good craft knife).

They provide a pleasant feeling of control: firstly, their points easily produce tiny marks, secondly, thanks to the sturdy wood jacket, you cannot break the whole rod.

Alas, when it comes to making broad strokes, charcoal pencils definitely aren’t the most effective medium.

I will give you the following advice: combine pencils and sticks. There is no point in choosing between them. 🙂

Perhaps you’ll decide to try charcoal powder as well. The powder is suited for refined shading. It will help you to create a blurred background and soft skin tones. It’s applied with a paper tortillon (a blending stump) or a finger.

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Natalia Usanova
I am a poet and an amateur artist. A few years ago, it seemed to me creating works of art is a much more important occupation than reading books, visiting galleries, or listening to music. Now I don't think so. Let me share with you the masterpieces which have changed my life and can change yours. Follow me on Twitter!

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