Charcoal Painting: Handy Tips for Beginners


Charcoal is one of the earliest mediums used by man for drawing. The first-ever recorded use of charcoal was in the paintings in Niaux cave, France, which are assumed to have been created 12,000 years ago. Since then, charcoal has been the most preferred medium for creating black and white paintings. In this article, we cover some basic tips and tricks for beginners in charcoal painting.

Charcoal Painting: Know Your Materials

Let’s start off with understanding the basic materials used in charcoal painting.

Vine charcoal: It is a soft charcoal, which is easily erasable. It is very light and is ideal for drawing soft lines. All of these features make vine charcoal a perfect choice for creating a basic sketch of the composition before painting.

Compressed charcoal: Much darker than vine charcoal, this type of charcoal typically comes in a bar form and is break resistant. It is a hard material, which can be sharpened to produce detailed lines – something that is challenging with vine charcoal. Also, compressed charcoal is not easily erasable.

Powdered charcoal: As the name suggests, this charcoal comes in a powdered form. With its ability to create a softer look, it is the perfect choice for toning of large areas. However, because of its powdered nature, it can sometimes be messy to use.

Erasers: They come in two varieties – vinyl and kneaded erasers. Vinyl or plastic erasers are tough ones and can erase the toughest of materials, including charcoal. However, because of their hard nature, vinyl erasers need to be used carefully as they can even tear through paper. Kneaded erasers are soft and flexible and do not cause any damage to paper. Also, kneaded erasers can be formed into different shapes, making them very useful for erasing detailed areas.

Paper stumps: These are useful for blending or smudging charcoal to allow use in narrow areas requiring a lot of detail. Paper stumps have two pointed ends and are very handy for spreading the charcoal across the paint area.

Chamois: Small pieces of chamois leather are used as a bending and erasing tool. By gently wiping the surface with chamois, you can easily lighten rough tones.

Tips for Charcoal Painting:

Experiment with different types of charcoal: As a beginner, it is good to try out the three different types of charcoals mentioned above. Try pressing them as hard as you can on paper to get an idea of their hardness and darkness. While experimenting, draw different types of lines and shapes to better understand the suitability of each type of charcoal.



Working Backwards: A good technique for beginner charcoal painters is to fully cover a blank page with charcoal first, and then create a drawing using an eraser. Create a few paintings using this technique and grow in confidence before starting to draw using charcoal.


Use a Black and White Portrait for Inspiration: For beginners, creating a portrait is a good way to get started with charcoal painting. You can use any existing black and white portrait as inspiration. Using the technique above, first cover the page with charcoal and start creating an outline of the portrait using an eraser. Note that your painting need not be an exact copy of the reference image. Use your imagination to make your portrait different from the original. Once the portrait is ready, you can erase the remaining portion of the black background.

Dealing with the Mess: Charcoal painting can be very messy. If your hand is full of charcoal, you face the risk of smudging your drawing. To prevent this, you should use a sheet of paper below your hand. Also, you should avoid blending charcoal with your finger. Instead, use tissue paper, stumps or cotton.

Another tip to minimize the mess during charcoal painting is to draw on a vertical surface as this limits the scope of dragging your fingers or arms over the drawings. To prevent your table from turning black, use old newspapers below your workspace.

Watch Videos: You will find tons of videos on YouTube of charcoal paintings. These videos will help you visualize the process and understand the finer nuances. If you’re a beginner, avoid watching videos that use advanced techniques of charcoal painting as you may get confused.

Use a Fixative: Once you are done with creating a charcoal painting, spray a fixative on it to avoid smudging. A fixative is a liquid sprayed over a finished piece of drawing, made in charcoal or pencil, to increase its life. Ensure you don’t spray the fixative from too small a distance, as you may end up spoiling your drawing.

To summarize, charcoal painting is an excellent way of expressing your creativity. Don’t wait! Pick up the charcoal now and start creating your own black-and-white masterpieces.