Choose the Best Charcoal for Your Drawing

My Review of the Best Types of Drawing Charcoal

Charcoal is available in natural sticks of willow and vine charcoal, and compressed charcoal in various grades in stick or pencil form. Carbon pencils are a blend of charcoal and graphite with an oilier binder which gives a soft, velvety feel . Compressed charcoal and pencils vary in texture according to the blend of charcoal, clay, and fillers used in their manufacture. Ideally, purchase a small selection to try, as preference is a matter of personal taste. The 'buy direct' links are to affiliate Blick Art Materials. Thank you for supporting via this affiliate retailer.

Blick Art Materials

Okay, it's a little expensive, but worth it. This charcoal delivers beautiful, velvety grays and erases with a touch of the finger. oops.. did I say finger? I meant chamois, of course, I'd never touch my paper with my greasy, acidic fingertips, right? Well, when you're drawing with this stuff, you can't help yourself. My all-time favorite charcoal, which I save for special occasions!



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Blick Art Materials

Willow charcoal gives soft, subtle grays that are easy to erase. natural variations in the willow can create variations in texture and tone. Coates are an old British charcoal manufacturer who produces a reliable, good quality product. Their charcoals affordable and are available in varying thicknesses from 4mm thin willow up to a tree stick of around 20mm thickness, including a box of assorted sticks. More »

Blick Art Materials

Standard timber pencils with charcoal blend cores, these pencils offered good rich blacks. They have a very dry, almost abrasive feel, blending easily with a paper stump and erasing fairly easily. I tend to prefer the 4B and 6B pencils as the 2B is rather hard and tends to scratch. More »

Made from a blend of charcoal and graphite, Carbon pencils have a smoother, almost greasier feel than charcoal pencils. They deliver lovely, velvety blacks, smudgeable but less so than charcoal, making them an ideal sketchbook medium, as they are much cleaner to use. More »

Compressed charcoal sticks are the mainstay of many charcoal artists, providing a versatile, expressive medium for all kinds of charcoal drawing, especially figure drawing. Compressed charcoals give rich, smooth blacks that are blendable but adhere well to the drawing surface (though can be difficult to erase, depending on the paper). Conte offers a consistent product in varying hardnesses. Try a medium, soft and very soft to start out with. More »

This looks like fun! 8 oz chunks of artist's quality charcoal. Great for those big expressive pieces where you want to lay on loads charcoal fast, for big, expressive mark-making. I haven't used this type of charcoal yet. Do note that big, expressive drawing with big, irregular pieces of charcoal probably calls for a fairly robust paper, such as heavy brown craft paper or watercolor paper. More »

If you are keen to try out a range of charcoal drawing techniques without buying too much of one thing - or to give as a gift -  the Cretacolor Charcoal Drawing Set is a good choice. Containing charcoal and Nero pencils, graphite sticks, 5 grades of compressed charcoal, willow charcoal, a charcoal block, kneaded eraser and tortillon. Nero pencils are a bit like carbon pencils, with oily waxes giving a smooth, rich line. Tinned sets are particularly nice if you're the sort of person who likes to keep their materials organized in this way. If you usually leave them scattered over your desk or put them in other containers, buying loose stock might be more economical. More »

I haven't actually used this brand of powdered charcoal, but General's brand products seem generally reliable. Powdered charcoal is usually used for transferring patterns and pouncing, but it is also popular with art students for 'hands-on', expressive, large-scale charcoal drawing. Very messy to use! More »