Types Of Artist Charcoal – All You Need To Know

Charcoal gives a more intensive black color than graphite and enables 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, you burn wood. However, if you just put a thick tree branch into a fireplace, you’re unlikely to take it out of there as a high-quality art tool.

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

Second, I doubt you’ll choose the right twig. Many species of wood don’t have the correct features to produce high-quality charcoal.

The final important ‘but’: branded charcoal is often manufactured from two components – the main substance in the form of powder and a binder. Of course, the mixing 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 with a slightly irregular shape.

Natural charcoal makes smokey grey strokes: you’ll have to struggle with it to draw 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 is replaced with gum.

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

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

Sticks of that type, unlike vine/willow ones:

  • have a regular shape;
  • let you not only create broad strokes but also draw relatively fine 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). These pencils are ideal for 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 🙂


*If you buy something through the banner I will earn a commission, at no cost to you. More info

Default image
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!

Leave a Reply