Charcoal; Blocks, Sticks and Pencils

Featured in  / May 2020 ScrawlrBox

We realise you may have never seen or used products like this before so we have put together a few hints, tips and techniques to test out and get the best from these supplies.

Coates Willow Charcoal Sticks
The highest quality charcoal from the Coate Family's renewable willow beds on the Somerset Levels. The result is a superior charcoal, black in colour and smooth in texture as favoured by fine artists.

Seawhite Black Compressed Charcoal Block
Ideal for broad, expressive drawing and fine detail. Its smooth application is easy to blend and layer to create deep dense tones and is naturally water soluble allowing for interesting line and wash effects.

Koh-I-Noor Gioconda Charcoal Pencil
A charcoal pencil ideal for fine-tuning your sketches and neatening any expressive charcoal marks. This pencil gives you those well loved traditional charcoal textures with great control and a sharp point.

Lyra Rembrandt Chalk Pencils
These oil free pencils can be blended and blurred to perfection using fingers, cotton buds or putty eraser. They layer extremely well and are fantastic for adding realistic shading or highlights to your work.

Lyra Rembrandt Splender Pencil
This Lyra Splender, colourless blending pencil, when applied with a little pressure, gives a glossy surface and helps blend tones together seamlessly

Things To Try...

~ Experiment with line width and pressure. Using thick, heavy lines and thin, airy lines in your artwork seems simple enough but it’s amazing how many artists forget this very helpful technique in their work. Be sure to use the various edge sizes of your supplies to bring an added element to your work. 

~ Charcoal smudges easily and there is nothing worse than smudging all of your hard work with your drawing hand. Place a scrap piece of paper over the top of your work, to rest your hand on when drawing. This will prevent any unwanted mishaps.

~ You are not working with colour here so it can be easy to lose details in a sea of monochromatic shadows and highlights. If you have gone over board with the shadows, the putty eraser is your best friend, and can be used to lift some of the charcoal from the page.

~ Compressed charcoal is very dark and a little more blunt and permanent than charcoal sticks. You can definitely still lighten an area of compressed charcoal with an eraser, however only to a degree – so it takes a little more commitment to dive in with compressed charcoal. However, it provides a wonderfully dark, dramatic tone to your work, so don’t be afraid to work with it. Just make sure to try out a few test swabs to get a feel for it first.

~ Charcoal can be messy, so remember a little goes a long way. Whilst you can still erase charcoal, too much pressure when applying it to paper can leave marks that can’t be easily softened or erased. Remember it’s always easier to add more than remove, so go easy on the application to begin with.

Notes From The Artist

Phoebe Cripps

Treat charcoal as a way to block in mass, rather than just drawing in lines. Start with bigger gestures, and avoid going into detail too quickly.

It is good to test your charcoals on a scrap piece of paper, to know exactly how they rub out, using different pressures of lines. The charcoal sticks will be the easiest to rub out, where the paper holds onto compressed charcoal more. So it is good to consider this as you apply it to the paper. You can also sharpen your charcoal on a fine grit sandpaper, to give yourself a sharp edge. 

Being cautious and not applying too much pressure when applying the charcoal, starting with light lines, will give you more control over the drawing. For example, if you were drawing a portrait, It gives you room to push the drawing around until you have the proportions where you want them, without overworking the paper by repeatedly adding and rubbing out dark lines.

I use charcoal sticks to block in the mass, blending it with gently with a dry brush, a cotton bud, or a clean finger, you can then ‘draw’ out the light areas with the putty eraser. It helps if you pull a smaller bit off and warm it up in your hand, making it more malleable. Using the perfection eraser to clean up sharper lines and edges will help to enhance detail, with the Splender Pencil being great for precision in blending small detailed areas.

The compressed charcoal block will appear blacker on paper than the charcoal sticks. So it is better to add the compressed charcoal later to areas of the drawing where you want to draw the eye, or to a shadow line to create more contrast. Try to resist going too dark everywhere, as this makes it harder to have a more subtle scale of darks. Keeping shadows within a face (e.g. under the nose etc) ‘milky’ and not too dark, stops the shadows seeming like they are cutting a hole into the face. Equally, not describing too much detail within shadows can help keep the focus in the light, and helps create a sense of a 3D subject. 

Try to resist adding the chalk too early, and when you do, add it sparingly at first for highlights, as it can be less easy to remove. When using toned paper, I try not to apply chalk on top of charcoal, as mixing the charcoal and chalk can muddy the mix, and the charcoal is then harder to rub out when it has chalk on top of it. Let the paper describe those mid tones, and do some of the work for you.

As featured in the May 2020 ScrawlrBox 

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