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shadowfelldown's avatar

Drawing with charcoal... any tips?

Asked by shadowfelldown (389points) November 11th, 2008

I am doing a charcoal portrait of my cousin for an art project. I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to get the hang of charcoal. I was wondering whether you might have any tips on how I can produce better results with the medium.
I usually start a charcoal piece one of two ways.
scenario 1: I start by blacking out the page with charcoal and then erase the highlights to form the picture
or scenario 2: I use a more additive approach, adding the ground as I go.

The problem that I am running into is that in scenario 1 my highlights get muddy (the eraser does not get a perfect white), and in scenario 2 the drawing looks too linear and flat… and I loose some of the mid tones that I have when I use the blackout method.
What method you all prefer to use when you work with charcoal, and why?
also, (on a similar note): what is the proper way to use workable fixative. Is it a bad idea to use it on only one part of a drawing? is there a way to get rid of the line where the fixative area stops and the unfixed area begins?

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9 Answers

shadowfelldown's avatar

thanks for the reply squirbel, that is actually the site that convinced me to try scenario 1. But As you can see from the example on that page, the whites are muddy when you use this method. I was wondering if anyone had tips for drawing with charcoal without loosing the highlights, but while still maintaining the gray tone range.

windex's avatar

Practice Practice Practice!

Also, assuming you’re using a kneaded eraser, try doing the highlight, then using a cleaner side of the eraser go over it again.

The problem might just be that your eraser is too old/dirty. If you get a new one it might just solve your problem.

cookieman's avatar

I always start with hard pressed charcoal. Sketch loosely, standing up, use you whole arm (draw from the shoulder). Lots of her light continuous lines (like fine wire). You should be looking at the subject much more than the paper. Work quickly, don’t worry what it looks like. Eventually the form will begin to appear.

Then switch to soft press charcoal to more carefully define the form’s midtones and details.

Finally switch to vine charcoal to lay in the shadows.

Use a kneeded eraser to pull out highlights and certain edges at the end.

kfingerman's avatar

fingers fingers fingers. Use them. Wipe them on your palms when they get too dark. You’ll get all the mid tones you need. Also, I always finished a drawing and then used a spray fixative on the whole thing. Then there’s no problem with having a line at the edge. You can also do this in stages, fixing one layer once you’re, say, happy with the background, although it’ll never be as nice to draw on as the bare paper.

susanc's avatar

What about using some high-quality white pastel for the very bright highlights you seem to want? Working from both ends of the black/white scale would give you total control.

janbb's avatar

I haven’t used charcoal in a while, but I usually used the hard edge of the stick to draw the outline, and thne would smudge in from it or use the side of the stick then smudge to get the round areas, trying to reserve the paper for the highlights. Generally only used fixative at the end. You can get lovely effects with charcoal but it is not an easy medium to use.

kruger_d's avatar

I get a cleaner brighter edge, with a vinyl eraser, cleaning it when necessary on a scrap. Cut it diagonally with a craft knife to get into corners.

ChronicDoodler's avatar

Use a toned pastel paper; my favorite is smooth Strathmore Artagain paper, in various tints. Draw your shapes lightly, separating the shapes of your shadows in your drawing. Then fill in your shadow shapes with a medium tone, smoothing it out lightly with a chamois cloth. Then soften edges than are not meant to be hard and use while pastel or pastel pencil to briing up the areas of light, reserving the whitest whites to represent areas closest to the light source.

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