View Full Version : Charcoal? Tell me what you know.
March 19th, 2006, 03:07 PM
Hey, I've been doing drawings with a focus on shading, and have been using a normal #2 pencil. It takes a long time and is hard to get subtle value changes, and I thought it was just me. I just found a post on artrenewal.org - Virgil Elliot equated cast drawing in pencil to scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush. He said he doesn't like to torture his students, and makes them draw with vine charcoal instead of pencil. What do you think?
I am confused about terms. 2H, 4B, &c. 'sketching pencils' are graphite, right?
Charcoal (not vine charcoal) has fixatives in it and has a wood sheath like a pencil does?
Vine charcoal looks like a burnt stick off a tree and is easily erased?
What's compressed charcoal like?
Any particular brands you recommend?
When using charcoal to achieve an 'academic finish', is a smudge stick usually used?
Does anyone know any sites, tutorials, or books I could read to learn how to draw in charcoal? I'd like to learn to use it even if pencil works just fine. According to the Bargue Course book, (until I get enough money I'm confined to the "Search this Book" feature on Amazon :()
"...you should not use it as a beginner without instruction; the use of charcoal presents too many difficulties to solve by yourself."
How do you scan it? I'd think it would get all over. Are there fixatives? Which are the best?
March 19th, 2006, 10:22 PM
I use charcoal alot for things and i love it! but i am no expert.
Anyway I don't normally scan charcoal drawings usually photograph but you can fix it with a workable fixitive or permenet fixitive. WORKABLE just means you can go back into the piece( erase and change things) after its sprayed a little more easily than if you use the permenet. The permenet also smudges less but still smudges some I have found. You can get these at any local art store, I have even seen fixative at walmart but unsure of the quality. You should fix your charcoal drawings after they are finished to help prevent smudging.
Charcoal is cheap and i would sujest just getting some vine charcoal to start and playing with it. Some people like to use a stump or other blender (chamois cloth or tortillion ) but others use there fingers I think its just what ever your into.
A kneeded eraser is a must for me when I work with it.
I am not sure about the various consitution of the different charcoal like what is added to them to make them different but compressed charcoal is a more concentrated intense charcoal great for soft rich darks and should be used more for darkest areas, Willow charcoal is soft and not so dark , and you can get charcoal pencils that are various degrees of harness if you need a lighter or firmer line. Some people also like using the white charcoal pencils
on toned paper but I would suggest using white paper andleaving the whites until you feel comfortable with the medium.
Charcoal is also great when combined with graphite so you might want to experiment with that too later once you get the hang of it.
I love it for life drawing and quick sketches. You can render value very quickly with charcoal and its great for quick studies.
I hope this helps:)
March 20th, 2006, 01:11 PM
Woah so many questions... so many GOOD questions too ! :)
Pencils hardness :
1) HB is average.
2) Anything B is soft. The bigger the number, the softer it'll be, the darker it'll tend to be. It's what artist usually prefer to use since you don't have to press on your pen like a maniac. Some special blends of pencils (the ones I LOVE) are called "EB" which is a mix of graphite and charcoal.
3) Anything H is hard ; the bigger the number, the harder it'll be, the lighter it'll tend to be. This kind of pencils is usually used for tech drawing where line precision (and sometimes stealth) are needed. That said, you can see some artists using these for sketching too.
I'll try to answer as best as I know... Charcoal can be found in pencil sheath but also in simple stick form. Vine charcoal is super smooth to work with and you can safely build up your values with it. It's easy to erase with a kneaded eraser (or even a normal sharpened Staedler). A disadvantage is that it tends to stick less to the paper compared to...
Compressed charcoal : has amazing darks but is very unforgiving when it comes to erasing.
Since charcoal is for sketching, I don't think there are brands that stand out. You don't really need top of the line medium for studies...
I have a love/hate relationship with smudge sticks. They make my teeth hurt (the sound of the felt on paper.. Augh just thinking about it!). I usually use my fingers, an acrylic brush or a Q-tip. For hard places I'll use a smudge stick.
Note of caution if using your fingers ; it could result in leaving oil traces in your pigments which I'm not sure how it would react over a long period of time.
I think the best tutorial is to do some short poses and long poses life drawing sessions. I remember a couple of exercises we had in first courses of college : Draw clouds with vine charcoal, draw a folded piece of paper, draw a crumpled piece of paper, draw a spoon in a glass half full of water with charcoal or pencils, etc. That kind of stuff.
ALWAYS use fixative with your charcoal pieces ! And don't be afraid to splurge on a good brand (Krylon for example). Some people use hair sprayer but you get what you paid for... Putting a blank smooth newsprint sheet on top of your drawing will help ward off the friction too.
So just fix it, wrap it, bring it back home and throw it in the scanner :) If I was able to scan a black manner without turning my scanner into a coal mine, you can do it too.
March 20th, 2006, 05:30 PM
If I was able to scan a black manner without turning my scanner into a coal mine, you can do it too.
Hahah! This is the REAL skill needed for charcoal drawing! None of this namby pamby life stuff!
March 21st, 2006, 01:15 PM
Since charcoal is for sketching,
hmm we do our 3months+ cast drawings in charcoal :]
I'm still on the bargues, though, and a little afraid of charcoal, because I've never worked with them and as Luke, don't really know how to do it.
watching the charcoal people at school helps, though :]
-we don't use stomps (stumps?)
-we don't use fingers (I guess because of the oil traces)
-we do use sponges to work charcoal into big areas of tone such as a black background
-we use kneaded erasers to lighten the tone/pick out highlights
-we use brushes for spreading charcoal dust, blending, etc.
egerie said everything I know about pencil/ charcoal types and fixing, I guess it's just learning by doing, sooo.. GO! :)
March 21st, 2006, 09:20 PM
Wow! Thanks a lot, everyone. I found some charcoal (compressed, I think) in a drawer and did a quick self-portrait. Fun! It'll take some practice to be able to get a realistic look with it. I'm going to get some fixative and vine charcoal as soon as I can.
Dorian, do you use any specific brushes or should I just try using a few various cheap ones?
March 22nd, 2006, 02:14 PM
Cheap, and not too soft. Those starter packs of really cheap scrotty oil brushes are great.
March 22nd, 2006, 10:02 PM
Cool, I got all the basic supplies and am loving how it feels to use. I'm trying to copy & match a black-to-white gradient I just printed out, not sure how to get smooth gradients on Strathmore Charcoal paper.
Is this tutorial similar to how you use charcoal for studies/Bargues? http://www.artgraphica.net/free-art-lessons/how-to-draw-people/how-to-draw-people2.htm
Is there much of a difference between soft, medium, and hard vine charcoal? What is it?
March 23rd, 2006, 04:11 PM
Hahah! This is the REAL skill needed for charcoal drawing! None of this namby pamby life stuff!
The coal scanning or the black manner ? j/k ;)
LukeTores: Hey that's cool! About the tut; I don't agree with some of the stuff that is being said in there, probably because I had a different technique. It's one way to start but don't limit yourself with one way to work. You'll find what works best for your trough practice too.
Don't hesitate to post your stuff too !
I can't wait to get my hands on some casts and do the same :)*giddy*
March 23rd, 2006, 11:08 PM
How do you guys and gals get lighter values? The only way I've found is to draw hatches as lightly as I can and then smear them. This doesn't work too well because it leaves darker streaks where I press a little too hard, it takes a while to do hatches so light, and is streaky even when I hatch carefully because they don't completely blend. I guess I'll try it with different hardnesses? I haven't tried using the dust-on-a-brush yet (no sandpaper for dustmaking).
First attempt at a study in vine charcoal.
Someone told me vine is more for lines and not really for shading, is this true?
March 25th, 2006, 02:11 AM
I love charcoal for life drawing.
March 25th, 2006, 09:58 PM
For light values try to leave your brightest lights. Get a kneeded eraser those are invaluble, you can pick out lights and blend with a kneeded eraser easily. Try to use a light hand , try to work light to dark using compresses and or a heavier hand where its darker. You might also try using the stump to blend your hatched areas in a lightcircular motion. add more charcoal where needed . Build in layers. This is what i do.
Using a brush works well too. Experiment and have fun.
March 26th, 2006, 12:37 AM
You can also try covering a area with charcoal and then cut out the form with an eraser. I posted some charcoal drawings here -> charcoal drawing (http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showpost.php?p=760603&postcount=6) drawing 4,5 and 10 are charcoal.
March 27th, 2006, 03:34 AM
When my drawing teacher required us to use powdered charcoal as a ground, it was a revelation to me. It utterly transformed my charcoal work. (Also, it might help you to get some nice light areas without lines.)
What I did:
Bought a canister of General's Charcoal
Laid my paper flat, shook powdered charcoal onto it
Spread the charcoal around using a paper towel
Shook more powdered charcoal and spread, as necessary
Pinned it on the wall and sketched with vine charcoal
Used compressed charcoal to create darks, lifted out highlights with kneaded eraser
I was so, so pleased with the results; I've done about 5 different projects with this technique, and I really want to do more. Good luck! (Even if you don't try this.)
April 10th, 2006, 09:02 AM
I am working in charcoal primarily right now. Check out my sketchbook if you like for some ideas.
April 10th, 2006, 10:39 AM
egerie- that was a great explanation. I never knew what those different ones were for..
April 11th, 2006, 11:25 AM
The only thing I know about charcoal is whenever I try to use it it gets all over the place and smudges like mad. Wish you luck my friend I have seen incredible drawings done in charcoal.