Working on Drawing Surfaces

Drawing can be done most anywhere, but a smooth surface and comfort are important factors. There’s nothing worse than getting a stiff neck or a sore back, or finishing a drawing only to find the perspective is off. Worse, if the drawing surface has even the slightest nick, and you draw over that nick, the charcoal will leave a dark mark that’s almost impossible to erase.

Fortunately, there are many options available in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.


Many charcoal artists prefer to draw on an angle or on a vertical canvas. Easels are most accommodating for those drawing positions. One of the most popular is the French easel, because it has a handy drawer for holding drawing tools. I use a folding French easel that came with a backpack, so it’s convenient to travel with and it saves in storage space. It can be used either upright or as a table easel.

One of the many favorite things I love about Nitram Charcoal is the packaging. The batons are inside a bubble wrap package with a top opening. The bubbles are on the outside of the package. I turn the package inside out, and when I’m done drawing for the day, I put them back in the package and in the drawer of my easel. I’ve transported them that way when I’ve traveled with my easel, and I’ve had no breakage. When I have a fine point on my batons, I place them inside regular household sponges. Just make several slits with scissors or an X-Acto knife (even a steak knife will work) and set the batons down inside the slits. The sponges can be easily placed inside the tool drawer.

A studio easel is the preference of many charcoal artists, although it has no drawer, there is usually a ledge to set charcoal batons, pencils, and other small tools. The easels tilt and can be adjusted to preference.

Because I like to work on an easel and I don’t always use paper in blocs, I went to a home improvement store and had several pieces of smooth Masonite cut to fit my easels at different heights. I had most of them cut at a one-half inch thickness and it works well. I had a few cut at an inch thickness, they work well but are a bit heavy.

Drafting Tables

Drafting tables are great, but can be more costly. You can buy a simple table or one with storage drawers.

Drawing Boards

For those looking for something more inexpensive and transportable, there are all types and sizes of drawing boards. Boards with one-inch grids are available for under $10 and have a top clip or two to hold paper steady. The top clip is also useful for transporting charcoal in the bubble wrap packaging. There’s plenty of grip space at the top of the packaging so it will transport securely without flopping around. They also have a convenient cut out for carrying.

Drawing Board

Some drawing boards come with knee rests for lap drawing. Computer lap trays can also double as a drawing board. With any kind of board, it’s easy to get all comfy outside with knees up so that the board is angled.

Whichever way you prefer to draw, a good smooth surface is essential and, if taken care of, will last for many years.

My drawing board (pictured right) is about seven years old, cost $6 at the time, and travels well. The surface is still as smooth as the day I bought it and it cleans easily with glass cleaner. I use it primarily for when I’m drawing outside as it’s not sturdy enough for my easel. It’s not a good idea to wear good clothing when using a drawing board on your lap, something I learned the hard way!

No matter what surface, or angle, you work on, it’s always wise to step back every now and then to check the perspective of your drawing and always make sure before you begin to draw that the paper is not laying on top of any nicks or chips.

1 comment

  • Thank you for the tips on the easel. I haven’t drawn in charcoal for decades and am thinking an easel will spare my back.

    Deb Von Cannon

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