Charcoal Drawing: A Basic Introduction
Charcoal drawing was used for preliminary drawings during the early years of human history. Due to disadvantages of the charcoal blowing or dusting off and being very messy - the base charcoal drawing was then painted over or was drawn over by another media. However, no artistic media has lasted as long as charcoal has over the years, with charcoal cave drawings by prehistoric man still seen today.
The use of charcoal for drawing is less limited than the use of graphite pencils, with it being more spontaneous in its creativity than many other types of art material. When using charcoal, its usage has a tendency to be "scribbling or sketchy" in its techniques, quickly expressing the emotions of the artist. I like the speed and response I get from using charcoal during life drawing sessions, ranging from very bold and heavy lines on down to soft and subtle shading, with any sort of shading tones I want to use.
Charcoal can be obtained in sticks, chunks, pencils, vine, and compressed charcoal. The long and thin vine charcoal and willow charcoal are very popular with artists, and is considered to be one of the main media for artists who like to use uncompressed charcoal. Vine charcoal is dark gray, whereas the willow charcoal is dense black. Versatility in willow charcoal makes it available in several widths - from thin, through medium to thick, and even jumbo - ranging from 3mm to the jumbo 24 mm. Many beginning canvas sketches are created with willow charcoal, in many classrooms, and also by professionals.
Compressed charcoal, as compared to uncompressed charcoal, can be shaped into longer sticks of charcoal. It is less messy to use than uncompressed charcoal and is rated by its hardness. Sold in extra soft, soft, medium, and hard ranges, many different companies use this same range for graphite pencils, which are 4B through to HB - or very soft through to hard. The 4B charcoal pencil is also sold as a carbon sketch pencil, with the larger and heavier charcoal products requiring a heavier drawing paper. Charcoal pencils come in a range of 9B to 9H, with HB the average middle range to use for soft and light. They can be purchased in sets, or individually.
Compressed charcoal can also be made into 8 oz. charcoal chunks for those who like to work on large areas. It is also made into white compressed sticks of charcoal, which use a special charcoal paper which is black in color. In addition, charcoal crayons often are used by artist caricaturists, and are made with less binder, if any, and mixed with compressed charcoal.
There are hundreds of paper types to draw on, and several made for charcoal. One of the most popular, and one that I use quite a bit, is the vellum newsprint. Many artists keep the multi-media type drawing paper around, as it is used for all media types. Charcoal paper itself comes in white, gray, black, and other colors. You can purchase it with more or less of a "tooth" - I prefer it with more tooth for an artsy look I enjoy.