Charcoal Baton or Charcoal Pencil, Which One Should You Be Using?

Nitram Charcoal can be used to draw in the same way a graphite pencil can be used, but charcoal produces richer, dark values that are difficult to achieve with a pencil. When choosing charcoal to add to the artist box, some may wonder what tools are needed to provide a broad range of tonal values. There are several options: Willow, vine, charcoal pencils and Nitram Batons.

Nitram Charcoal baton’s give the artist the versatility of willow, vine and pencils with less frustration.

The Pros and Cons

Some aspiring artists begin to learn the art of drawing with charcoal pencils, only to abandon the medium out of frustration. Charcoal pencils can be less messy than stick charcoal, but they don’t provide as much expression. Several companies make charcoal pencils and they can widely range in quality. Some will have a “waxiness” to them and others may be similar to a hard grade charcoal.

Most pencils need to be frequently sharpened, and the interruption can quickly become annoying. The pencils are best sharpened on an electric sharpener. For canvas drawing, a charcoal pencil will require frequent sharpening.

Other pencils use a string that allows the user to peel back a paper covering to expose more charcoal. These strings must be trimmed often or they can accidentally drag across the paper. This “tripping” can cause a mark in the paper that is difficult to erase.

Charcoal pencils are not good for large, expressive drawings, and the baton’s offer a looser stroke than a pencil can produce. Another drawback to charcoal pencils is that those with the “waxy” feel can give the appearance of “shine” on the paper.

Charcoal pencils are much more difficult to erase than a stick or baton. Another disadvantage is that, when too much pressure is applied, the charcoal pencil can create an indentation that may completely ruin a drawing.

While a deeper black can be achieved with most charcoal pencils, it can also smudge easier. When some charcoal pencils smudge, the result is a darker black, which is often not what was expected, or desired.

Charcoal pencils can be sharpened to a fine point, making them good for very fine detail. Nitram baton’s can also be sharpened to a fine point, but some artists may prefer to grip the pencil casing for small details.

An advantage of batons is that they can be sanded or grated into a fine powder for large surface applications and Nitram batons and blocks can easily be used for covering larger surfaces. Charcoal pencils are not suitable for large-scale drawings when a lot of background coverage is needed. A baton can also be used at an angle for shading whereas a pencil is much more restrictive.

The Final Word

For fine, dark detail work, a charcoal pencil can work fine and it’s a good idea to keep one on hand in the artist box. It’s also a good practice to test the pencil on paper before applying it to a drawing. Not all charcoal pencils are created equal and some can be hard and abrasive.

For fluid drawings, a baton works best. If the artist is looking to achieve a more “technical” drawing, a pencil may be the more suitable choice. While Nitram batons are great for both gesture and contour work, charcoal pencils are best used for contouring.

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