CharcoalThe use of charcoal for art goes back thousands of years. There are many primitive charcoal cave painting which were most likely painted using burnt sticks.

Charcoal drawings tend to be described as ‘scribbling’ or ‘sketchy’ and often considered the pencil drawings wild counterpart.  Many people say that drawing with charcoal is more like painting or sculpting than drawing. Very often charcoal is used to sketch out canvas paintings as the lines tend to disappear much quicker than pencil when water is applied.

Types of Charcoal

Most types of charcoal are available in a range of thicknesses from 3mm to 24mm.

Willow:  Willow charcoal is made from the branches of the willow tree. This type of charcoal is quite soft and powdery which makes it good for covering large areas. It isCharcoal Pencils and Sticksalso quite easy to erase which is great for when you make a mistake. However it will sometimes struggle to adhere to the paper.

Vine: Vine charcoal can be made from willow or linden sticks of wood. It is a relatively hard type of charcoal and tends to give a greyish black colour.

Compressed: Compressed charcoal is available in a range of softnesses whilst still being harder than willow. Compressed charcoal can be sharpened into a point which makes it great for finer details. Generally speaking, compressed charcoal is more durable than willow or vine and gives off a darker black colour.

Charcoal Paper

Canson: Canson papers are designed for strong adherence and good drag which results in a deep colour finish.

Fabriano: Fabriano papers are quite soft whilst still having a strong tooth.

Strathmore 500 : Strathmore 500 paper pads have a raised texture and are great for precise shading.


There are a number of eraser types to remove unwanted charcoal marks. The kneaded eraser (putty rubber) is very soft and squidgy – like putty! The great thing about kneaded erasers is that they can be shaped in order to be more precise. They work by absorbing the unwanted charcoal particles. Chamois leather can also be used to pick up unwanted powder as well as blending the charcoal.


A tortillion is a blending tool made of rolled paper. It is tapered at the end for the smudging and blending of charcoal.


Due to the nature of charcoal, your artwork will need to be sealed once finished. If you don’t seal your charcoal then it is likely to smudge and ruin with time. For those just starting out it is probably best to use unscented hair spray as it is cheap and cheerful. You can buy both workable and permanent professional fixatives as your charcoal skills progress.