Getting the most from Nitram Soft Charcoal

Nitram Académie Fusains B (Soft) 5mm batons produce a rich black and are perfect for tonal values and dark accents.

Despite its softness, Nitram batons can be sharpened to a fine point. It won’t crumble and is resistant to breakage, unlike willow or vine charcoal that can easily break.

Nitram soft charcoal is easy to erase and doesn’t leave behind a lot of dust as some charcoal’s do. With versatility and ease of use, Nitram Charcoal is the perfect choice for adding dark accents and tonal value to a drawing.

How to use Nitram soft charcoal

For detail drawings and coverage of small areas, Nitram soft batons can be sharpened using sand paper or a sand paper block. The baton can be sharpened to the desired point by holding it on an angle and turning the baton while sanding. It’s not necessary to press hard. Before beginning, it’s best to have a container to put the dust in for later use.

Maintain the point by sharpening as needed. The charcoal batons can also be used on its side to cover large areas and the charcoal smudges easily, making blending a breeze. Another advantage of soft charcoal is that it can be completely erased without leaving any residual tones behind.

The amount of pressure will determine the darkness of the line and the beauty of soft charcoal is that if a line is too dark, color can be easily lifted.

Building tonal values

Soft charcoal can be layered and lines can be redefined. Soft charcoal can be used to define shadows and any darker area of a drawing. Because of its diversity, tonal values are easily achieved by applying various pressures to the drawing surface. The more pressure applied, the darker the line. A very light touch produces a light line and heavy pressure will result in a deep, rich black.

The drawing shows an example of soft charcoal and its versatility. The trees are drawn with soft charcoal with the lighter shades lifted with a kneaded eraser.

Nitram soft charcoal can also be sharpened to a fine point and used in portraiture. The pupil of the eye requires the darkest dark and can be achieved with soft charcoal.

Finishing a drawing

A fixative should be used to preserve a charcoal drawing to ensure the charcoal stays put and doesn’t fade over time. Charcoal can smudge, even over time, so it’s best to seal a drawing. There are many brands of fixative available and it’s a matter of personal preference.

Hairspray may be less expensive but the alcohol in hairspray can cause it to yellow over time, ruining a drawing. It can leave blotches and dark spots and some hairsprays are too sticky to apply to artwork.

Fixative should be applied lightly so that the charcoal doesn’t smear or darken. Always use fixative in a well-ventilated area and be sure to apply at least two coats. Apply evenly and be sure that the drawing is to your complete satisfaction before sealing.

1 comment

  • Is it possible to varnish a Nitram portrait after it has been ‘fixed’. What varnish would you recommend?


    Alasdair McDonald

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