Draw With Charcoal

Charcoal drawing is a well-recognized skill. Very professional-looking black-and-white images can be drawn just with a little chunk of charcoal and eraser. It's like making abstract photos without using a computer. Charcoal is also a good way of learning gray gradients and lighting techniques. Many people wonder how those images are made to look so cool with just a piece of charcoal.


  1. Set up your workspace. Charcoal can draw on almost any type of paper meant for drawing. Remember, though, that coal is also very messy. It comes off your skin very easily, but to avoid your table becoming all black, put some newspapers or other papers under your workspace.
  2. Take a charcoal crayon and fill an entire paper up with black. You don't need to draw anything yet. Just turn the white paper black. Don't leave any blank, white spots.
  3. Find a good black-and-white photo. Try a portrait, even if you are a beginner. Put it in front of you and turn it upside down. If you do that, you do not have exact imagination of what you are drawing and your image will be unique. Aim for some basic highlights of the human face; you do not need to copy the image exactly.
  4. Take a piece of eraser and erase out the outline of the head. That's right, you will be drawing with an eraser.
  5. Start with the eyes, since they are the whitest spots on your face. Do not place them all the way on top of the image, since that's where you will draw hair. Also, consider eyeballs and the shines: Once you have the basic eye outline, take eraser and slightly make a rounded line inside of the eyeball. Now, your eyes really look realistic.
  6. Look at the photo and start finding the areas that are lightest. Now, take your eraser and erase those areas out. Apply less and less pressure as you go out of the lighted area. Now, take your finger and rub those areas. That blends the gradient and makes it more realistic.
  7. Start working on the details. You might want to take the charcoal again and make some outlines. Also, you can take eraser and erase other, additional areas out.
  8. Try to shape the hair. Take eraser and make lines along the black area that is supposed to be hair. Now, take the coal and make the lines thinner. Be sure to follow patterns shown on the photo.
  9. Erase the black background. Take eraser and erase everything besides the portrait. Then take the charcoal and fill in the outline that used to be white. Make the outline thin.
  10. Turn the portrait over and admire. But realize that that was just a start up exercise. Your image is probably not the best and looks nothing like the photo (but it looks like human!). If you want to, you can start all over again to get more practice. Once you think you've mastered making gray gradients, you can move on.
  11. Draw a still life. Take some fruit, vase (maybe with flowers) and place them on a chair or table. Pay close attention to lighting and shading and use same techniques as you used in portrait to bring the image to your paper.
  12. Move on to even harder stuff. Look out your window and draw what you see: Trees, streets, houses. Again, notice all the shading and lighting. Try to learn new techniques.
  13. When finished with a drawing, spray it with a fixative to prevent smudging. You may also try hairspray, but in some cases this may ruin the piece.



  • After working with charcoal, you will probably get your hands and face dirty (yes, face. It's weird how the stains get there, but it's very possible to get your face dirty). Don't worry, charcoal cleans up easily with plenty of soap.
  • Though you can use your regular eraser, it is better to use a kneaded eraser, as it is a special type that's made especially for coal. These erasers are very soft, like wet clay. You can give it whatever shape you can. They're not sold in most stores, so here's how to make a substitute (although real one is a lot better). You take little chunk of bread and roll it, until it looks like one substance with no holes. Try making it more solid by rolling it even more. Now, "carve" a sharp point out of it to make it look like an "Eraser Pencil". Now, you can add more specific highlights to your image. And if you need to erase a big portion, just use a regular eraser (or make your soft eraser wider).
  • Artist's charcoal can be found in your local art store.
  • If you need to smudge something to add highlights or shadowing, use the heel of your palm. Save this for last because it gets really messy, or ruins your picture.
  • For good shading on your picture, smudge the charcoal with the tip of your finger.


  • Don't touch your picture after drawings unless you have washed your hands as your picture will be ruined with smudged fingerprints.
  • Always keep your workspace ventilated. You don't want to breathe in too much charcoal.
  • Always wash your hands after working with coal. Never put your hands in your mouth or pick your nose if you did not wash them.

Things You'll Need

  • A piece of white paper
  • Artist's charcoal
  • Eraser
  • kneadable eraser or slice of bread (see tips).

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