Charcoal has a strength and expressive power that captures life well. However, there is certainly a learning curve when using charcoal for the first time. Below are some essentials to help you draw more effectively using this medium.
Don’t use a charcoal like a pencil
While some charcoal sticks can be similar to a pencil in shape and size, the technique for using it is quite different. For starters, the type of charcoal you’ll be working with will dictate the type of grip you’ll be using for holding it. Most work best when pinched between thumb and index finger.
Sharpen charcoal by snapping it
Sometimes you want a sharp, thin line, which you can’t achieve when your charcoal is blunt. One solution is to simply snap your charcoal in half to get plenty of nice crisp edges. After a while you will end of with a lot of stubby bits of charcoal though. An alternative is to lightly rub the charcoal against sandpaper to restore the edge.
by Emma Sargeant - what skill!
Smudge charcoal to achieve flat tone
You can use your fingers, a brush, or a paper stump to help you merge layers of charcoal and flatten the tone you have put down. Be careful with smudging though – it’s an addictive characteristic of charcoal that can end up taking the life and dynamism out of your tone.
Charcoal can be daunting for those used to pencil - it can quickly become messy and its power can be too much when not using correctly. However, it is well worth pursuing, and with some practice, you will start to tame its strength and get on top of its messiness.
For more information about charcoal and life drawing, sign up to our course which includes articles and videos covering details on the use of charcoal, plus methods for using other drawing materials and fundamental life drawing skills.
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