Getting started with Charcoal

Hi guys!

A tutorial after so very long! I do apologise for the irregularity, and will try to update this blog more frequently now that I have a rather long vacation. 🙂

Anyway, I recently discovered a fascination for a new medium- charcoal! It is dark and extremely daunting, but once you get the hang of it, it is simply brilliant! Here’s a little project to help you get started the way I did, only a few days back!

Here’s what I used:

Admittedly, most of these are gifts (the advantage of having relatives who know about your fascination of art materials!). No, I’m not sponsored by Derwent! I just happen to love their products, which are also easily available here. 🙂
The charcoal pencils are for precision (well, as much as you can possibly get with charcoal, that is). the shade “Dark” is softer charcoal which rubs of more easily, while “Light” is harder charcoal and appears almost medium-dark grey.
So let’s go ahead and get started!
1. Hold the sand paper board over the paper and scrape the compressed charcoal block over it so as to allow the charcoal dust to fall over the paper.


2. Rub the charcoal dust around using the Chamois leather to create a base shade. I used the “medium” charcoal block so that highlights and shadows stand out more prominently. Also, I like to pat the dust into the paper using the Chamois first, then rubbing it out so that most of the dust stays on the paper, rather than getting lifted off by the leather (which is just a waste).
3. I chose to draw an eye since it is the easiest thing to draw- not technique-wise, but the shapes and lines are quite easy to remember. Using the charcoal block (or one of the pencils, if you prefer), draw out a very basic eye.
4. Colour in the pupil and the outline of the iris. (For more on why this is done, check out my basic eye tutorial.)
5. Blend across the iris, leaving specks  for the highlights. Any old blending stump will  do. I used a tortillion because it is smaller and easier to handle since only one end gets dirty. (Also, “tortillion” is a fun word to say!)


6. Now starts the fun part. Using the kneaded eraser (or a pointed hard eraser, if you prefer), erase out a spot for the most prominent highlight. This should be even lighter than the charcoal dust background. So erase until you see clean paper. Add specks to the iris, but these need not be quite so light.

7. Time for the cornea (the “whites of your eyes”). Start by erasing off little semi-circles around the iris. Dab outwards with the eraser, till you reach the two corners. Remember that the cornea is the brightest near the iris, then fades off into shadows towards the corners- this is how we perceive our eyes as round and not flat!
8. Draw two little diagonals at the inner corner. Using the tortillion, blend from the inner corner, around one-sixth of the way to the iris. This is the reason I like well-used blending tools. You don’t need to put down more colour before blending. If, however, the stump won’t put down any colour, this is where the “light” charcoal pencil comes in handy.


9. Time to add dimension to the skin around the eye. Using the “dark” pencil. outline the upper lash-line and the crease, pulling the colour slightly upwards in each case.


10. Blend! I like to blend in the same direction as the lines- horizontal semi-circles. This helps smoothen the blending. Also, remember to carry some of the colour down into the cornea. This causes the eye to appear hooded slightly by the lid.
11. Repeat with the lower lash-line. This time, however, do remember to leave a slight gap between the bottom of the iris and the start of the lash-line. This gap acts as the water-line. No blending into the cornea either!


12. Using the kneaded eraser, erase off the water-line as mentioned on the previous step. This causes the eye to appear sunken into the skull, rather than popping out of it like in the cartoons!

13. Add highlights on the upper eyelid and the arch of the brow.

14. I defined the brow by using the block and blending it out. There’s no point in attempting to create individual strands of hair on the eyebrow, or even trying to create lashes. Charcoal is a rather crumbly medium and it is extremely difficult to get a fine point- unless, of course, your subject has dreadlocks on their eyebrows or lashes, both of which seem statistically unlikely!


15. The alternative to defining lashes, I figured, was to darken both the lash-lines and blend outwards.


16. Use the white charcoal to brighten up the light specks on the iris and the water-line. I also brightened the inner corner a little.

And that, as they say, is it!

Charcoal, as a medium, is a lot of fun to work with. Of course, things get a little messy, and I’d suggest getting a manicure only after you’ve washed your hands out thoroughly, but that only adds to the excitement!
Tinted charcoal is another option, and seems extremely promising. I hope to try it out soon and will definitely put up a review/tutorial when I do.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Do check out my basic eye tutorial on further details on drawing the eye. If you have any requests or critique, please feel free to leave comments, and I’ll look into it. 🙂
Here’s what I did the first time I played around with charcoal- 40 glorious minutes!
Do try it out and let me know how it goes, and have an amazing day.
Oh and happy new year! I know it’s a bit late, but even so!
Thanks for watching!

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