Monday, July 19, 2010

All About Charcoal Pencils

Have you ever wondered what a charcoal pencil really is? What types are there? To get all of these questions answered, we should start at the beginning.

How was the charcoal made? Wood is slowly heated in the absence of oxygen, which leaves you with a black substance that resembles coal. This substance is 50-95% carbon, while the remaining percent is volatile chemicals and ash. If you've ever sat around a campfire and watched the wood burn, you will know that it becomes black, and can crumble in your fingers.

Now we know how the charcoal is made, but how is it used it art? There are a few different types of artist's charcoal. these are vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, and powdered charcoal. Vine charcoal is made by burning sticks of willow or linden/Tilia trees. Compressed charcoal is produced by mixing charcoal powder and gum binder. The charcoal is then compressed into round or square sticks. This is what is used in charcoal pencils, which usually have a smooth cedar cover. Last but not least, there is powdered charcoal. This is used for shading large areas.

I tend to use my charcoal pencils when doing shading and very dark areas. My main drawing is usually done in graphite, which is lighter and more reflective than charcoal. The reason charcoals are more likely to be used for shadows is because they don't reflect very much light. Who would want a shadow that was brighter than the object itself?

Charcoal pencils range in color from gray to dark black. The grades are: H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, and 6B. They are very versatile and can be used in a complete grayscale sketch.
Now that you know a little bit more about your charcoal pencils, go out there and start sketching!

I'm going to leave you with my negative drawing of an old pair of shoes.