Pencil or Charcoal?

When I start teaching beginner drawing classes the materials I put out are pencils and charcoal.  I soon noticed that some learners were confused by the choice and don’t know which to pick.  This is because they are not sure of the differences between the two and in particular they know very little about charcoal.

How is charcoal different to pencil?

Charcoal is produced by burning twigs.  The smoldering wood, usually willow results in a sooty black that makes a dark, rich, smooth line that can be smudged with ease.

Willow Charcoal
Willow Charcoal

Charcoal comes in stick form, willow charcoal is the most common and they look ‘twig -like’ being long and thin.  Below is a thicker type of stick of charcoal know as ‘compressed charcoal’ the result is a thicker, blacker line more like a pastel.  Both types are very versatile and encourage a bolder, more free line than pencil can give. Changing the pressure will give varying tones, much like pencil but charcoal can give very dark, black areas.

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What is Mark-making?

Often art teachers refer to ‘mark-making’ but what does this mean?  It is a term that means just that – to make marks.  You may think that mark-making is just for kindergarden children but no, it is a useful activity for all.  Being completely new to materials mark-making can be a great way to gain confidence with media (art materials).

Mark-making is an exciting area of art

Enjoy the process of making as many marks you can with pencils, pastels and paints. Once you experiment there are so many variations to mark-making; swirls, dots, dashes, smudging… more that you think!  Sometimes something simple like  holding the pencil or brush in a different way can produce new marks.

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