Types Of Artist Charcoal – All You Need To Know

Charcoal gives more intensive black color than graphite, enable a draughtsman to experiment with a rich variety of tonal gradation.

This organic material is perfectly suited for classic drawing, particularly for portraying a nude human body.

What Is It Made Of?

Even a baby knows: to get charcoal, they burn wood. But if you just put a thick tree branch into a fireplace, you’re unlikely to take out of there a high-quality art tool.

Firstly, the stick will be too fragile. The conditions, which are necessary to save its structure in flame, couldn’t be provided at home.

Secondly, I doubt you’ll choose the right twig. Many species of wood don’t have the features, that would allow producing high-quality charcoal.

And the third important ‘but’: branded charcoal are often manufactured from two components – the main substance in the form of powder and a binder. Of course, the process requires special equipment.

Natural Charcoal Sticks

These are willow or grape branches heated in a kiln. They tend to be fairly thin and long, their shape is slightly irregular.

Natural charcoal makes smokey grey strokes: you’ll have to struggle to draw with it a strong line.

Since such sticks contain no binding agent, their marks can be smudged or erased.

That medium helps artists to create interesting textures on paper and sketch a basic composition on canvas.

Compressed Charcoal

It is formed from charred wood dust mixed with wax. Sometimes the latter are replaced by gum.

Controlling the ratio of the main material to a binder, makers produce that medium in the wide range of softness – 2H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B.

Generally, however, even the hardest compressed charcoal is a bit darker than natural branches.

Sticks of that type, unlike vine/willow ones:

  • have regular shape;
  • let you not only create broad strokes but also draw relatively little elements – eyelashes, hairs;
  • break much less easily.

On the downside, it may be tricky to completely erase their marks.

Compressed charcoal is used in the manufacture of special pencils (for example, Koh-i-Noor Gioconda). The pencils are ideal to work with fine details. Another fantastic thing is that after drawing with them your hands won’t seem as dirty as the hands of the artists in the photo above 🙂


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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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