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What are Charcoal Pencils?

what are charcoal pencils

Are you interested in learning what are charcoal pencils exactly? You may have heard about these drawing tools already because they are among the most popular mediums for making art. Do they really just use regular charcoal in their leads?

If you are interested in trying out charcoal pencils, then you definitely should go through with it. Charcoal pencils are excellent art mediums. Some would even say that they are better than graphite pencils.

If you want to learn more about charcoal pencils and maybe even figure out if they might be the right choice for you, then you can take advantage of this article as it aims to explain everything that you will need to learn about this art medium and how it works.

Charcoal Pencils Defined

As the name suggests, charcoal pencils use compacted charcoal instead of graphite leads. This is a versatile drawing tool preferred by a lot of artists for sketching because of its unique properties.

In fact, charcoal is probably the oldest media used for making art. Cave drawings that date back more than 28,000 years ago were made using charcoal. This is proof that charcoal is not just versatile but it can also withstand the test of time.

However, modern artists seldom use regular charcoal, like the ones used for cooking. The charcoal that you would usually find in an artist’s studio is usually one in compressed stick form. You can see them shaped like sticks of chalk but they come in different thicknesses.

What are Charcoal Pencils Used For?

what are charcoal pencils used for

There are many applications for charcoal pencils, including:

Outdoor sketching

Because they can create darker marks, charcoal pencils are great for on-the-spot sketches. The bold marks would prevent you from putting too many details into your sketches, but rather make you focus on the shapes and forms of your subjects. This is great practice for beginners at drawing.

Portrait drawings

You can create photo-realistic black-and-white portraits using charcoal pencils. Because charcoal marks are easy to blend, you can hide the pencil strokes and create softer transitions between shades.

Pros of Charcoal Pencils

pros of charcoal pencils

Less reflective – Graphite pencils tend to get reflective the more layers you put on top of each other, providing an almost metallic shine. Meanwhile, charcoal pencils will always leave a matte finish, so you can create as many layers of charcoal as you want without worrying about the shine. This allows charcoal pencils to create deeper blacks.

Creates broader marks – Even in pencil form, charcoal can create broader marks compared to graphite pencils. This is the reason why they are ideal to use when creating drawings that are larger than your standard paper size.

Easier to erase – Because charcoal pencils do not contain as much binder as graphite pencils, they are easier to erase. In addition, there are many charcoal pencils that do not contain any binders at all, promoting ease in erasing your mistakes.

Easier to blend – Charcoal does not contain any binders, making it possible to blend marks with ease using just your fingers. This allows you to create photo-realistic drawings because the strokes are easier to hide. However, this can also be a disadvantage, as explained later.

Encourages spontaneity – You would think that being less precise than graphite is not a good thing but it is. Because of the bold marks that they can make, charcoal pencils can encourage more spontaneity and put your imagination to work. This makes them easier to use when sketching outdoors.

Cons of Charcoal Pencils

cons of charcoal pencils

Messy – Even if you are not using charcoal sticks, charcoal pencils create significantly more dust compared to graphite pencils. Prepare to shake off a lot of charcoal dust whenever you are drawing using this media.

Very brittle – Because charcoal pencils do not contain quite as much binder, they are a lot more brittle than graphite pencils. This is why when traveling with charcoal pencils, you have to place them in a pencil case to keep them from breaking. Also, when drawing with it, you should not place too much pressure on the tip as it will easily break.

Smudges easily – As much as this is a benefit when drawing because charcoal is easy to smudge, you should be careful when using it. One wrong move and you can ruin hours of hard work.

Why Use Charcoal Pencils Instead of Sticks?

why use charcoal pencils instead of sticks?

Even though charcoal sticks are prevalent in the art world, it is not beginner-friendly. For one thing, if you are used to holding a pencil, drawing using a charcoal stick may feel awkward for you. This also makes using charcoal sticks not ideal for small-scale drawings.

Charcoal sticks also need to be sharpened more frequently. If you need to draw fine details, you have to sharpen the ends to a point. Also, they are quite messy to use because your fingers are in direct contact with the charcoal.

This is not to say that charcoal sticks are inferior since they do have their uses. Also, in the hand of a master, charcoal sticks can create captivating drawings. It is just that charcoal pens are much more convenient to use.

Charcoal pencils are still the same as charcoal sticks. However, the charcoal comes encased in a pencil body. This makes them much easier to hold and less prone to breaking. Also, because they are encased in either wood or paper, they are not that messy to use.

Tips for Using Charcoal Pencil

tips for using charcoal pencil

Don’t go too dark

Although it is very easy to create absolutely dark blacks using charcoal pencils, you should control yourself. Never put too much pressure on the pencil tip as you might have trouble blending it out later. Practice by making a gradation scale so you can get used to handling your charcoal pencil.

Keep your paper clean

One of the biggest benefits of using charcoal pencils is also its biggest bane – that is they smudge easily. You should not rest your wrist on the paper while drawing with charcoal. Extend your pinky finger and let that rest on the paper. This also helps you control the pressure you put on the tip of the pencil.

Use an eraser for the highlights

Knowing where to remove charcoal marks is as important as knowing where to place them. If you want to add highlights to your drawing, use an eraser (preferably a kneaded eraser) to remove charcoal from the area. Also, use erasers to give your drawings hard edges by removing the charcoal marks around the perimeter of the shape.


Now that you know what are charcoal pencils, I am sure that you have also understood how to use them to their full potential. It might seem a bit overwhelming when you first use a charcoal pencil, but once you get the hang of it, you will regret not using it earlier.

However, keep in mind that you will not be adept at using charcoal pencils right off the bat. Just like other art media, use charcoal pencils as often as you can and you will get incrementally better every time.

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