View Full Version : Anyone work with Charcoal?

08-30-2005, 04:52 AM
Do any of you learned fellows know what to use for a white highlight when using charcoal? I've got one of those white chalk pencils, but it doesn't work at all.

I was thinking gouche but I'm afraid it's going to just wipe away the charcoal underneath. Suggestions?

Scott Story
08-30-2005, 09:47 AM
We did back in college, but that's been a few moons ago for me. I remember it was a paper with a good tooth, and we used good ol' krylon fixative. They probably make a more appropriate fixative today, though. I also remember preferring the soft graphite sticks to actual charcoal, mostly because you got a truer black and it didn't break as easily as charcoal will.

I remember we also used tan paper sometimes, and white pastel for highlights, letting the tan paper be the mid-tone.

08-30-2005, 10:57 AM
I use a limited range (3-4) of charcoal sticks for the bulk of work. You can get them in various hardnesses like graphite. Obviously the harder ones are going to be more precise and grip the surface better while the softer ones rub up more but have deeper darks.
The sticks are good for laying down large fields and shades.

I also have a soft charcoal pencil that i use for intricate details and laying down dark precise lines. With the softer charcoal you can leave the lines sharp or smudge them as appropriate.

Keaded erasers work great. Also a vinyl eraser that you cut a chunk off with a razor is great for precise erasing or cutting lines thru the charcoal.

I use a utility knife to sharpen the pencils or stick if need be. Twist sharpeners can shatter the stick/charcoal pencil.

they sell smudge sticks but nothing works as good as your finger.

You can draw on special charcoal paper but I've done some great stuff on cold press illustration board. Its much more rigid and consequently holds up to erasing and rubbing much better than a paper. I think some people like the paper better because the fibers make it look smoother. The board has more texture to it which shows in the final (not that thats a bad thing) It just depends on preference.

08-30-2005, 11:18 AM
Good ole smelly aquanet hair spray in a can works very well for fixing your images.

08-30-2005, 11:32 AM
Thanks for the input, guys.

Dano, is a charcoal pencil the same thing as a carbon pencil? :confused: And I think I'm looking for a pretty smooth piece of paper... any specific suggestions? I've tried official "charcoal" paper but I can't stand it -I probably should mention, I wouldn't be working very large either.

08-30-2005, 11:51 AM
I think carbon is a combination of graphite and charcoal. I've never used it but if it lays down good lines, go for it.

I would think the heavier the better. Like a 70lb paper. But i do a lot of erasing, smudging etc so i need a tough paper. I would suggest going to your local art store and asking to see different kinds. Some places have the large sheets they sell individually, as opposed to the pads you get from Strathmore or Bienfang.

Also, by the inprecise nature of charcoal, be sure to draw in ratio to head comfort. If you're doing figures, you want to size the total picture by how comfortable you are drawing their heads. With pencils we get used to drawing small heads because they are very precise tools. With charcoal you might have to bump that size up to get the same quality of detail.

edit: Personally I've gotten some great charcoal results from working on news print. Its really cheap but the surface works great with charcoal. Really smooth which allows for very fine blending. In your search for paper you might want to use that smoothness as a benchmark.

08-30-2005, 11:53 AM
Cary - If you're looking for something smooth to work on, I'd like to suggest Canson Pastel Paper - that may work. It comes in a good many colors, if that's what you're after, different weights, and is designed to take and hold the much finer "chalk" of a pastel pencil. So I'd imagine it'd be ideal for charcoal. Definitely worth experimenting with.

As far as tools, you might try both ebony pencil and conte as secondary tone-creators in addition to the charcoal stick or pencil.

Krylon Workable Fixative is the best stuff I know of. My only caution would be to wait until the drawing is complete and then fix LIGHTLY from about 2 or 3 feet back with the drawing held up vertically in some fashion ( tape or pins on the back of a pad works fine ). One or two coats for just a few seconds. Hope this helps.

08-30-2005, 11:54 AM
Cary you can't go to smooth on the paper or it won't hold the charcoal. It just falls off and smears.

Cold press illustration board Dano? I have been using the paper lately for practice and it's very uh toothy that board sounds pretty good. Can you order it at say Dick Blick's?

08-30-2005, 11:58 AM
everythings going to be toothy except for the newsprint. The trick is to massage the charcoal into the tooth. The line you lay down isnt going to get into the grain just by your stroke. You have to rub it in to get that grain to sort of disappear. Even in the blackest black you rub it in. lightest lights, rub it in. But do it gently. If you apply toomuch pressure it'll leave little 'footprints'. Better to rub 10 times softly than 2 times hard.

yeah you should be able to get it at dickblick. Its got heavy tooth though. tough if you draw small but great if you're doing portraits.

08-30-2005, 12:04 PM
What about drawing with charcoal on vellum? I've tried it and it's smooth, but I wonder how a fixative is going to take to it. Also, has anyone heard of "detail" paper?

Can you get white newsprint? or is it going to have that greyish tone?

08-30-2005, 12:05 PM
i've never tried on vellum or heard of detail paper.

Let me know how it goes!

08-30-2005, 12:18 PM
Isn't detail paper a fine tooth sand paper for detailing cars? No I have never seen newsprint without that grayish quality.

08-30-2005, 12:23 PM
Probably. It was mentioned in an old book and I thought I'd try it out.

L Jamal
08-30-2005, 01:02 PM
a local web press printer may be able to sell you sheets of white newsprint

Michael Fraley
09-12-2005, 02:44 AM
Just reading through the posts, and thinking of what's worked for me ...

For working in comics, carbon pencil would usually be preferable to charcoal, especially if you're interested in fine details.

Carbon pencil is a combination of charcoal and graphite. Extremely black, dense, velvety stuff. Stan Drake used it for awhile on "Juliet Jones" in an effort to avoid having to ink. It can be combined with ink like Higgins Black Magic (pencil for thin lines, ink for large black areas) without looking too very odd.

The brand of carbon pencil that I find common in art stores is the General brand, although an English company recently brought back the Wolff brand that the old time illustrators like Norman Rockwell used. You can get those at the Dick Blick art supply web site. http://www.dickblick.com/zz204/52/

My favorite illustrator who worked in carbon pencil and black watercolour overtones was F.R. Gruger (Saturday Evening Post, 1920's). This is the only good web page I can find with any decent art by Gruger showing his technique, so please excuse the racial stereotypes for a second and just look at the art. http://www.ellisparkerbutler.info/epb/biblio.asp?id=2344

Here's an example of something I did using an ink outline, with carbon pencil for darker greys and an HB or something for lighter tones:

I liked drawing with it, but it wreaked havoc on my wife's asthma when I would spray the darn things ...

09-12-2005, 04:43 PM
Hairspray... all the way.

A couple of layers of hairspray fix pretty good and it's cheap.

I draw on Bristol board because I use ink on the same page, and smudge only with soft watercolour brushes, or putty rubber if appropriate. I've got a piece of sandpaper rather than a knife, because charcoal tends to shatter. The ink I use is much blacker than the charcoal, but graphics programs can fix that.

Atula Siriwardane
08-11-2007, 03:45 PM
There is a very thick -almost like a pencil- pencil which doesn't have wood for protection which can be used much like charcoal. You can erase for white high lights. I used it to draw this http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=289443&GSub=30055&GCat=8718 mostly with the normal pencil.

08-12-2007, 12:56 AM
Do any of you learned fellows know what to use for a white highlight when using charcoal? I've got one of those white chalk pencils, but it doesn't work at all.

I was thinking gouche but I'm afraid it's going to just wipe away the charcoal underneath. Suggestions?

When using "white" charcoal you never draw over normal charcoal, the result will be a muddy mess. usually "white" charcoal is used on a grey toned paper where the paper acts as your mid tones and the normal charcoal is used as your dark value ranges. When drawing on white paper let the paper be your "highlight" or light values.

I guess a good question is what paper are you using and what effect are you trying to achieve.

08-12-2007, 11:48 AM
I concur with Dano. Kneeded rubber has always been my preference. It brings out a good contrast because the paper ends out in a darker tint due to the loose charcoal(I work primarily on Newsprint cause I am cheap. A good source of newsprint is actually your local newspaper companies. They have tons of scrap paper, often by the reel. I get mine in Austin and I am sure it works the same way elsewhere). I'll have to see if I can't upload some if I can get a good picture.

08-12-2007, 04:47 PM
Wow. This is what I call resurrecting a thread.

08-12-2007, 06:00 PM
At first I was trying to figure out what you were talking about and then I saw "2005" :blink: :blink:

08-12-2007, 08:38 PM
Good ole smelly aquanet hair spray in a can works very well for fixing your images.

:laugh: That's totally what we used in my summer art class last year!!

For highlights we were advised to use the eraser first, to lift pigment off the page, then use the white pencil to accent really high highlights. It seems to work pretty well.

Lord Fejj
08-12-2007, 10:57 PM
You can also try white conte crayon, works pretty good. Strathmor sells rolls of 300 series drawing paper, it's slightly less thick that bristol, works great for charcol and ink wash. I used this in school because I refuse to use newsprint. Since its a roll you have to cut your own peices, but it's pretty cost effective.

White gauche works well too.

Premature Inker
08-14-2007, 02:52 PM
I got some for christmas one year..I was like..What the fuck is this?..I was good all year damnit!!..My dad then told me "No you draw with it"...But then he took it away because i said "fuck".Oh well.


Atula Siriwardane
03-07-2008, 09:40 PM
There is a very thick -almost like a pencil- pencil which doesn't have wood for protection which can be used much like charcoal. You can erase for white high lights.
The brand name of the thick wood-less lead-only pencils..
Cretacolor Monolith...