Which of these 4 mistakes do you make when working with charcoal?

By Nicole Tinkham

Which of these 4 mistakes do you make when working with charcoal_

Trust us when we say charcoal can be messy! Before making a complete mess of yourself and your drawing, read on for 4 mistakes you could be making when working with charcoal. We’ll cover supplies, the ideal positioning of your project, the importance of shading, and why you need to know about fixative. Read on to see what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.

1.    You’re not using the right supplies

When it comes to charcoal, there are many different types you can choose from as well as other essential supplies such as erasers and blending stumps. Having the right supplies is KEY to producing a nice charcoal drawing. We recommend having the following supplies when you sit down to do your charcoal drawing.

–    Vine charcoal: Comes from charred willow and produces a lighter mark.

–    Compressed charcoal: Comes in the form of blocks and leaves a darker mark.

–    Charcoal pencils (and sharpener): Compressed charcoal in the form of a pencil.

–    Kneaded eraser: Picks up pigment without leftover debris.

–    Blending stumps: Used for blending charcoal marks for a smooth look.

–    Chamois: Used to lighten dark areas.

–    Newsprint or charcoal paper: Newsprint paper is inexpensive and perfect for quick drawings. You can also use charcoal paper which has a fine texture that smudges easily.

2.    You’re working horizontally

It may not seem like a big deal whether you work horizontally on an art table or vertically on an easel but when working with charcoal, there is a difference. We suggest working vertically and here’s why.

–    It allows your charcoal dust to fall out of the way.

–    It prevents smudging from your hands.

3.    You’re not shading

The BEAUTY of working with charcoal is all about the shadows. This is why we stress having all the supplies you need to produce incredible shading. Once your basic shapes are drawn it’s time to form the objects with a combination of lights and darks. Play around with it. Smudge your marks to produce a 3D effect and bring your drawing to life.

*Less is more. You only need a small amount of charcoal to smudge and get the look you want.

4.    You aren’t using  a fixative

Fixative is a lifesaver when using charcoal as they can smudge as you’re working and get messy. There are two different types you can use. If you’re still working on your project, you want to use a workable fixative. This allows you to continue working without smudging. A non-workable fixative is to be used when you’re completely finished your piece.

*Be sure to allow fixative to dry completely before touching it.

Charcoal is an excellent medium to play around with but we must admit, these pointers won’t keep you totally mess-free. In our mind getting a little messy is half the fun anyway! This list is meant to get you familiar and comfortable with working on charcoal drawings. If you’re a newbie, you could be making one or all of these mistakes but luckily, they’re simple and easy to correct 🙂

Tell us, what’s the best piece of advice you have for a new charcoal artist?

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