The charcoal drawing medium is used for rough preliminary sketches in preparation for the design of paintings, or it may used for finished drawings.

Tip: Charcoal is excellent for tonal or value drawings.


Includes the following.

Charcoal is a dry drawing material used much in the same way as graphite and has many advantages. It is carbonized from burning wood in the absence of oxygen. This burnt wood, or the light, black residue after the wood has been burnt, has excellent covering power and intense blacks and, in some cases, is easier to erase than graphite.

Charcoal is one of the first tools used to make artwork, appearing in cave paintings dating back 28,000 years. It is the earth's drawing tool.

Charcoal, like graphite, varies in hardness and is also available in pencils or powder. Shading may be produced by smudging the marks made using a stump (made with cotton), tortillion (made from rolled paper), or even a Kleenex.

Soft Edges

Charcoal is an excellent tool for getting those soft edges, atmospheric or "sfumato" (the Italian word meaning "to tone down" or "to evaporate like smoke") found in Leonardo da Vinci's drawings.

Intense Blacks

Charcoal produces an extensive range of values, so it can create incredibly realistic and sensitive drawings. Vine charcoal makes lighter values, whereas compressed charcoal creates super intense blacks.

Work in Any Size

It is excellent for expressive drawing and can be used for larger-sized works. You just buy more giant chunks of charcoal.


Vine charcoal is lightweight and inexpensive.

Less is More

It's hard to get stuck in details using a block or stick charcoal because it has more of a blunt mark than the precision of a pencil. If more detailed work is needed, it does come in pencil form or may be sharpened for finer details.

Works Great on Textured Paper

When buying paper in the art store, look on the label for "charcoal paper" or feel the texture with your hand. If it has a textured surface called the paper's " tooth, " it will work great with charcoal. The "tooth" allows the piece to hold the tiny particles of the charcoal to adhere to the surface better. Note that the amount of texture or "tooth" varies among brands, so you must experiment to find what you like.

Materials or Supplies

Includes the following.

Vine Charcoal Sticks

Vine charcoal is produced by carbonizing wood sticks—willow and linden being the most common. It is excellent for gesture drawing and easy to erase with an eraser or even with your hand.

Preferred Brands

Nitram Academie Fusains is the preferred charcoal of professional artists, academics, and ateliers. Long considered the most refined charcoal for drawing, it is packaged in five soft, medium, or hard charcoal batons.

Preferred Grade

  • Nitram Academie Fusains HB (Medium)

Compressed Charcoal

Compressed charcoal is powdered charcoal mixed with a gum binder; the hardness is determined by the amount of binder used. It is compressed into round or square sticks. The amount of binder determines the hardness of the stick. It gets super dark and makes blacker values for dark accents, but it may not be easy to erase. It will stain the paper. This also is the type of charcoal that is found inside charcoal pencils.

Preferred Brands

Each General's Jumbo Charcoal package contains three Jumbo Charcoal Sticks, each of 2B, 4B, and 6B. This compressed charcoal can be sharpened to a point for detailed work. It blends easily with a paper stub. 3 "L x 1/2 "W x 1/4 "T. - Set of 3, Assorted Hardnesses.

Charcoal pencils and pastel pencils are like distance cousins. They are both held together with a binder and encased in wood. Charcoal pencils have compressed charcoal mixed with a binder, whereas black pastel pencils have black pigment (not just charcoal) combined with a binder. Depending upon the brand, pastel pencils go on smoother than compressed charcoal pencils, creating the capability for a smooth gradation in drawings.

Charcoal pencils come in different grades. Hardness or softness is graded on a scale created in the 20th century.

Grades include HB, 2B, 4B & 6B, used as a continuum from very hard (9H) to fine (F) to very black (9B). The HB pencil is the middle ground and most straightforward to work with using an eraser.

The letters stand for the following:

  • H for hard, 
  • F for fine, 
  • B for black 

The grade for each pencil is determined by the amount of binder used during manufacturing.

How to Sharpen Charcoal Pencils

Sandpaper is preferred to sharpen charcoal pencils. Some charcoal pencils will break off in a manual or electric rotary sharpener, so using a razor blade or an X-acto knife with sandpaper is recommended.

Faber-Castell Pitt Charcoal Pencil (Soft Grade) is made from soot and clay.

Pit Charcoal Pencil

These pencils glide softly across the paper, rub and smudge effortlessly, and can be erased and overlaid with minimal difficulty. Grease-free and oil-free, these artist-quality charcoal pencils make bluish-black lines.

Preferred Brands

  • Faber-Castell PITT® Charcoal Pencil (Soft)
  • OR Stabilo CarbOthello "Lamp Black" (No. 760)
  • OR Faber-Castell PITT® (No. 101)
  • OR Conté "Black"
  • OR for pencil lovers: Faber-Castell Polychromos "Black."

Charcoal Powder

Powdered charcoal is often used to "tone" or cover large sections of a drawing surface. Drawing over the toned areas darkens them, but the artist can also lighten (or completely erase) the toned area to create lighter tones.

Preferred Brands

  • Createacolor


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