There are the best drawing materials for pencil drawings and then there are the best drawing materials for using charcoal and today I shall be sharing with you the best combination of charcoal drawing materials in my expert opinion. The above images are from my own life drawing portfolio and the effects made by the combination of materials. For me the deliciousness of a well worked drawing in charcoal comes from the wonderful marks of all the previous attempts on that same paper that came before it. To be able to dirty up your paper with your first attempts give the foundation to the perfect drawing surface. So in a sense, those early drawing failures are what you are hoping for so you can wipe them out and create that wonderful textured surface.
To achieve this technique I found my perfect combination of materials quite early on in my career. For me the smooth tooth of the Strathmore 400 series paper with its creamy off white colour was the perfect paper if combined with Soft Vine Charcoal, a Gum Eraser and of course a Chamois. And not the tiny bit of Chamois you buy from over priced art supply shops either, but the big piece of Chamois you buy from car detail shops!
The soft vine charcoal doesn't behave on the surface of the paper like compressed charcoal because its light and will dust off fairly easily without leaving heavy difficult marks. This is important, in my opinion, to help create that delicious surface. Adding compressed charcoals later down the line of a well worked drawing is perfectly fine but early on its best to stick to the soft vine charcoal. I texture the surface of my paper with quick gestural sketches and wipe out each time the model moves so for life drawing, it helps to warm you up with quick one minute or less poses. Many other artists have said to me to just cover the whole paper in charcoal and then wipe it out for that perfect surface but I think it's more helpful to use first mark making sessions to actually exercise the drawing skill while also loosening up before a long pose.
In my experience, creating the texture before a longer pose, gets the artist inspired for digging deeper into a longer pose.
The blacker the chamois becomes the better too as this can help drawings further down the line with more interesting textures and marks to be made with differing shades of grey and black. And it's good therapy to dislodge some of the charcoal dust from your chamois by hitting it on a chair leg or something somewhere where you don't mind the dust flying. Just remember not to breathe in the direction of the dust! If you try this and do inhale the dust, then please don't come back to tell me off as we all are responsible for our own actions in this world.
I had a friend who thought it best to vacuum up the extra dust on a chamois and ended up sucking the chamois up which then clogged her vacuum and had to be cut out. Very tragic end for that chamois!
Using specifically the Gum Eraser with this combination of materials is best if used to bring in light into your drawing rather than as an eraser because its the chamois that erases and textures your work. I love getting the drawing to the point where you have built up the perfect layers of texture but can still see the creaminess of the paper showing through and then can work into the drawing with darker marks and pulling in highlights using the eraser. It gives a sculptural feel to your work that is unlike anything else!
On the side of this blog post, you'll see where I've put a little brown box linking you to the exact materials I use which you can buy as I do, from Amazon. Do check it out if you're in the midst of trying out new materials or building a kit of your own. I have included two sizes of the Strathmore 400 series because I use both sizes, obviously preferring the larger size because it gives you more freedom to move.
If you have enjoyed this materials post and technique description and are inspired to join in then please consider two ideas:
1. I teach in London using this technique so please get in touch if you'd like lessons.
2. If you are not in London but would still like lessons, then consider contacting me for online (FaceTime/WhatsApp or Skype) lessons.
My teaching rates are £40 per hour & must be paid at the time of booking.
*Mention this blog post and I'll offer your first & third lessons at 40% off.
For all teaching inquiries please email me at: email@example.com
*Stay tuned for more materials reviews every Monday 9am UK time.
My name is Franceska McCullough and I'm the owner and artist of Toothpickmoon. I'm interested in blogging about art materials, art events and conducting artist interviews.
*Disclosure: The links I'm using on this blog will only ever relate to the products I myself use in my own practice.