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 what are the differences between its two forms.
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, shade 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 that form tends to leave dirty prints everywhere.
Modern Special Pencils
Charcoal encased in cedar don’t make a mess at all.
Pencils of that type are sharpened in seconds (however, remember that leads from 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 nice feeling of control: firstly, their points easily produce tiny marks, secondly, thanks to the sturdy wood jacket you just cannot break the whole rod.
Alas, when it comes to making broad strokes, charcoal pencils definitely aren’t the most effective medium.
I would 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.