What Basic Techniques Can I Do in Charcoal?

Charcoal is very versatile and can be use lightly to produce delicate areas, spidery lines or add more pressure to get thick, black lines or areas of black. If  you are new charcoal it is well worth taking some time to mark-make with charcoal and see the types of lines and marks you can create – see my post What is Mark-making? for more advice. You could try some of these basic techniques, just be aware of the paper surface for the wash and putty rubber techniques as your paper will need to be more robust.

Using the side of the charcoal

This produces a large area of tone, idea for blocking in tonal values. 

Using the side of the charcoal
Using the side of the charcoal

Short Strokes 

Build up an area of graded tone by working with the edge/corner of the charcoal stick to create short strokes.

Short strokes in charcoal
Short strokes in charcoal

Crosshatching

Great for applying texture, create short or long lines in one direction and then over the top work in the opposite direction to create a ‘crosshatch’.

Cross hatching in charcoal
Cross hatching in charcoal

Blending

Using either your finger or a blending tool you can create smooth areas of tone.  Read my blog post on What is a Blending Tool? if you are unsure what a blending tool is.

Blending charcoal
Blending charcoal

Putty Rubber and Erasers

Using a putty rubber  or any eraser, you can remove pigment and create highlights or areas of lighter tone. You can also manipulate the charcoal line by rubbing into it and spreading pigment with a putty rubber. The more plastic the rubber the more smudging can be created.  

Putty rubber on charcoal
Putty rubber on charcoal

Scribbling 

You can create scribbled lines which look ‘scratchy’ in nature by freely moving the charcoal stick with a loose wrist.  This technique can build up a look of texture.

Scribbling in charcoal
Scribbling in charcoal.

White Chalk and Charcoal 

Add white chalk to create areas of intense highlights.

Charcoal and white chalk
Charcoal and white chalk

Charcoal and Pastel 

Charcoal and pastel are excellent when paired together.  Below we see white and grey pastels used with charcoal and not blended (smudged).

Charcoal and pastel can work together well
Charcoal and pastel can work together well

 

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