Charcoal Drawing: What You Need to Get Started

Drawing with charcoal can appear daunting to the inexperienced, yet it is one of the most versatile, inexpensive and fun mediums.

Few supplies are needed to get started and it is one of the easiest mediums to transport for plein air drawing. All that’s needed is Nitram charcoal sticks ranging in a hardness of B Soft, Hb Medium and H hard, paper, kneaded eraser, gum eraser, blending stump, sandpaper, wax paper or paper towels, small drafting brush and an acrylic paint brush. A workable fixative is recommended for finished work.

A heavier, smooth surface is easier to erase and a kneaded eraser should lift mistakes without injury to the paper. Another option is to roll a small piece of day-old bread into a ball and form a point.  The bread can be used in the same manner as a kneaded eraser.  Keep in mind that the more tooth to the paper, the more difficult the erasures.  For stubborn lines or marks, a gum eraser can be used but keep in mind that any paper, no matter what the thickness, can only take so much erasing. If a line or mark can’t be removed with an eraser, a white charcoal pencil may cover the mistake.

A small drafting brush, or watercolor brush, should be used for any necessary paper cleaning. Never blow on the paper to remove charcoal dust or eraser particles and never use the fingers to wipe the paper. The natural oils on your skin will leave a barrier on your paper and the charcoal will not adhere.

A paper stump can be used to blend charcoal to create a variety of tones.   A cotton ear swab can be used as a substitute.  A paper tortillion can work for blending but can leave lines in the blended area.

Sandpaper is used to form a chisel tip on the charcoal stick. Place sandpaper on a flat surface, lower the charcoal and gently rub the stick back and forth at a 30-degree angle until the desired chisel point is achieved. See how to keep dust to a minimum.

The acrylic or watercolor brush can be used for spreading charcoal powder onto large areas.  The brushes can be inexpensive and should be thoroughly cleaned or discarded after each use.

A small piece of wax paper or paper towel under the hand will keep the paper clean and prevent smudging.  Drawings should be started at the top of the paper and worked downward. A workable fixative can help prevent smudging but keep in mind that some fixatives can darken charcoal slightly.  When work is completely finished, spray a coat of fixative and let it dry completely before applying a second coat.

Charcoal supplies will fit in a small box and transporting them is easy.  To keep charcoal sticks from breaking, cut slits into a craft sponge and place the charcoal sticks carefully between the slits.  Place the sponge in a small box and the charcoal should travel well.

Experiment with Nitram charcoal sticks and see for yourself how easy it is to master! 

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