Tag Archives: Charcoal Drawing

Drawing with prehistoric drawing tools.

32,000 years ago our primitive human ancestors, used charcoal as a black pigment for decorating their caves, with drawings and images. Along with the cavemen, the Egyptians also painted their highly decorative hieroglyphic writings, with this very same substance that is still being used to day for the same purposes of drawing, writing and decorating.

Thankfully we don’t still live in caves but we do still use charcoal for drawing and the pigmentation of black paints, such as Carbon Blacks, Ivory Black, Vine Black and Lamp Black.

Carbon black is the name used for different but common black pigments, that are made by charring organic material, usually wood or bone, it only seems to be black because there is almost no light being reflected from it, that is visible to our eyes. Carbon black substances reflect very little or no light at all, so because of this, they give the impression of being black.

These black carbons where produced originally, by charring different types of organic material, Ivory black was originally made, by charring ivory or animal bones, where as Vine black was made in much the same way, by using the dried out, chard stems of grape vines instead. Nowadays you can still obtain vine charcoal but this has been mostly replaced with willow and other similar woods, making it more substantial for use in drawing. There are many different other types of charcoal produced, for different purposes, just one example would be charcoal grills, for grilling your steak and other meats outdoors.

Lamp black as it was called, was originally produced from the soot that gathered inside oil lamps, that was also called lampblack because of where it came from.

These end pigments are all carbon substances, which give them the generic term of being called carbon blacks.

As it stands today, charcoal is a prehistoric drawing substance, that is still effectively being used by many artists in the production of fine works of art, all over the world.

32,000 years on into the future, with the production of fine art still being practiced by many using charcoal in the drawing process and almost all black pigment, being obtained from chard materials, thus making charcoal the granddaddy of all the drawing substances, known to man, it must be good because we still use it.


Dead Bird Drawn With Compressed Charcoal
Road Kill , a dead bird, a compressed charcoal drawing.

Aerial maneuvers, dragon over the roof tops.

Modern mark making, in the context of drawing, a point of view.

I took the charcoal drawing of a 1967, Austin Healey, 3000 Mk III, sports car and super imposed it into another image of a thumb and finger, using GIMP photo editing software, I fused them together to compose the image below, about understanding perspectives and using mark making, as a visual dynamic for tricking the eye.

Pencil drawing photo image of a thumb and finger.In the drawing above you will see two different pencil techniques, one is called hatching and the other is called tonal modeling, both are used often, as drawing techniques for different reasons mostly. The hatching or also called cross hatching technique, is often used to draw subjects, that lend themselves to that type of mark making, like hair, grass and other textures, that can be described with lots of little lines or dashes going all in one direction or differing directions, and is a natural way to use a pencil.

The other technique is tonal modeling, which is where the pencil is smudged or modeled using graded tones, to create soft edges and shadows, most often seen in the drawing of skin tone, and clouds but in the drawing above, you will notice that both are being used in the same drawing.

The finger and thumb of the hand is drawn using hatching and cross hatching, whereas the back of the hand is drawn using a tonal modeling technique. The example is used to show how these techniques, can be used in this way and although they lend themselves to best describe textures that have been mentioned, they can also be used effectively to describe textures, that would not really lend themselves to these techniques, like with the finger and thumb.

This is also an example of how you can take already existing drawings and with photo editing software, fuse them together as a means of generating new ideas, bringing very different tools together to aid the creative process.

The image below, is almost completely created using tonal modeling and is a example of use, where it would accurately describe the fleshy textures of the baby’s skin tones, as well as, the bone textures of the skull, with the only hatching type marks, being around the word zeitgeist, which are again smudged pencil lines, with slightly modeled edges, that are not sharp or well defined. Mark making is also found in painting as well as drawing and is an important part of all kinds of art, where sometimes they are not lines, dashes or modeled areas but can be splashes, scribbles or pointillist type marks.

Zeitgeist, spirit of the times, pencil drawing.
The Zeitgeist, is the spirit of the times, this is a pencil drawing of life and death, called Zeitgeist .

A hand and the artificial creations, born from its great ability, to manipulate the world around it, isn’t all intelligence artificial because we only think we know, when we recognize the mark making?

Charcoal drawing of a 1967, Austin Healey

This is a charcoal drawing of a 1967 Austin Healey, 3000 Mk III, it was my first attempt at drawing a car using charcoal. The fact is it was my first attempt at using a charcoal pencil. Most of my work up until this point when using charcoal, was much bigger drawings and mostly life drawings. Charcoal drawings are good to draw because you can get very good tonal definition. Although the charcoal does not give you the same subtle tonal variation, you can get with a graphite pencil. This is mainly because it is usually very black or dark brown, almost black, where as graphite is grey but never quite reaches a black.

1967 Austin Healey 3000 Mk III charcoal drawing.

The other issue with graphite is the darker, the tones and thicker the layers of graphite are the reflective they are. This makes them seem lighter than the they actually are, at different angles because of the reflected light. Charcoal does not present this issue, as it is courser, producing little or no reflective qualities. Another issue with charcoal is, it is difficult to make very fine precise lines, partly because the material it’s self is quite soft and powdery. This issue can be improved considerably with compressed, harder charcoal or some harder charcoal pencils which I did not have when doing this drawing. The wheel spokes and some of the fine chrome details, would have benefited greatly from having some hard compressed charcoal pencils, when doing this drawing.

Charcoal drawing-size can be an issue.

The car was drawn onto A3, 300gsm watercolor paper, using the smooth side of the paper, the quality of the paper was not a problem but the size was. It would have been better if it was draw on A2 sized paper. This would have given me a bigger drawing area, so that the fine detail would not have needed to be so small. It would have reduced the need for very fine detailed lines.

The 1967 Austin Healey 3000 Mk III, charcoal drawing above, was drawn onto A3 water color paper, also with a little photo editing in this image, using PC software. This amounts to amounts to the darker faded area around the car being added. This gives the impression of it being under a spot light.

Charcoal drawing-better detail with marker pens.

The Austin Healey, 3000 Mk III, drawing below is not a charcoal drawing or graphite pencil drawing. It has been created with various grey marker pens. Slightly larger in size at A2, on 180gsm cartridge paper, it looks better because of it. There are no reflections of light from the marker pens but they have very nice tonal variations, with nice fine details. The issue with marker pens is that they tend to bleed through the paper. This makes the lines thicker than intended but because this was drawn on A2 paper, it compensated for the issue. The marker pens produced a nice drawing, that I was pleased with at the time. There are a few minor issues with it now, after reflecting on it but over all, it is a nice drawing that I am still pleased with.

Austin Healey 3000 MKIII Marker Pen Drawing
Austin Healey 3000 MKIII, this drawing is another example of the car but it was drawn with marker pens and not a charcoal drawing like the one above it.

The grid drawing below is of a Ford Mustang Shelby, GT 500, in graphite pencil. It was used as a construction drawing and was later was filled in using marker pens. It shows how neat and more precise the lines can be using a graphite pencil. It can be compared with the first drawing using charcoal.  The final drawing made from this also turned out well when finished in marker pens.

The  point to remember when when drawing, is size, it is much easier to draw a very fine detailed drawing, when doing it on a large drawing area, than it is when drawing in a small area, so size dose matter and large drawings will also look very impressive, to the onlooker.  If you are going to draw a charcoal drawing of a 1967, Austin Healey or any car with fine detail, then you will be best remembering, that bigger is better, size matters.