There are a couple of types of charcoal used by artists today. They are called “vine charcoal” and “compressed charcoal”. Vine charcoal is easier to erase but it is not as dark as the compressed charcoal. It also smudges a lot easier than the compressed as well. Compressed charcoal can come in sticks or pencil form and is much darker than the vine charcoal. I personally prefer the compressed charcoal when it comes to drawing as it is easier to control and smudges less when you are trying to draw in fine details of a drawing.
Enhancing a Pencil Drawing
When drawing with charcoal pencils I like to use them as more of an enhancement option when I am drawing with pencil. Sometimes when you are using pencils to draw certain items you may need to get really dark and need a lot of value to fill in. Although you can achieve this with darker graphite pencils, charcoal pencils won’t give off a shine like graphite pencils will. If you are not sure what I’m talking about just take a common number 2 pencil and color in an area on a piece of paper as dark as you can. Now, take a look at it from and angle and notice how the light reflects a shiny tone. Do the same with a charcoal pencil and there will be no shine effect. The end result displays a cleaner look and provides for less distraction when a viewer is admiring the artwork.
Shading with Charcoal Pencil
I find for darker gradations that it is easier to achieve with a charcoal pencil. Using a blending stump or a tortillon seems to be much easier to use with the charcoal than with the pencil. For one you have more value on the paper and it has a better coverage than with pencil. The trade of is that it is much looser when applied to the paper so handling it too much can propose an issue. Many people will spray a fixative on the finished product in order to counter act this affect, though it is not necessary. I prefer to slip the final drawing into an acid free plastic cover to keep it from smudging if I’m not going to frame it.
A great technique for shading with charcoal is to use it as a powder on a blending stump. This is where you take a charcoal stick or a charcoal pencil and rub it really hard onto a piece of sandpaper to convert it to a dust form. The place it in a pile and use your blending stump as a paint brush of sorts by dipping it into the charcoal and applying to your drawing.
Another great application for charcoal is sketching. Many painters use charcoal as a medium to do preliminary sketches of their paintings before they actual paint. It is a good way to find the composition before you begin your painting. This a great way to do a trial run as well before you start a new portrait drawing. Charcoal is soft, darker than pencil and blends easily when doing quick test drawings for composition and layout for a new work of art. Charcoal is especially pliable on canvas which makes it and ideal medium to layout your next oil painting.