How to Use Charcoal Pencils Like a Pro

How to Use Charcoal Pencils Like a Pro
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Charcoal has been a traditional medium of drawing for centuries and is a personal favorite of several artists because it produces bold and rich tones with high contrast. It can also be erased and blended easily, which allows artists to create a plethora of effects on paper. However, to reach a point where you can do those effects, it is essential to know how to use charcoal pencils appropriately.

Before we even begin talking about the right way to draw with charcoal pencils, it is important to note that there isn’t just one type of charcoal pencil. Charcoal is manufactured in several forms. For instance, compressed charcoal is used to produce dark tones while vine charcoal is used to create lighter tones.

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So, on the basis of what you plan on drawing, you should select the kind of charcoal pencil you need appropriately.

Why Should You Be Using a Charcoal Pencil?

The traditional forms of charcoal are undoubtedly great for quite a few applications, but artists still like the control that they get from a charcoal pencil. Also, when the artist uses traditional sticks of compressed and vine charcoal, they are more difficult if you want to develop those subtle details that certain subjects may need. Hence, in such situations, using a charcoal pencil is ideal.

Charcoal pencils are basically compressed charcoal material that is encased inside a paper or wooden wrapped pencil. One of the most significant advantages of charcoal pencils over charcoal stick is that it does not create a mess, which is especially helpful for beginners. Additionally, charcoal sticks can leave a whole lot of the charcoal residue on your fingers and all over the paper if you aren’t too familiar with them.

Sharpening Charcoal Pencils

Charcoal pencils that have a wooden casing can be sharpened using a regular sharpener that you use to sharpen a pencil. For pencils that are large and difficult to sharpen with the traditional sharpener, blades or knives become the perfect substitute. If you use a knife, ensure that you carve the pencil as far away as possible from you.

That being said, sharpening a charcoal pencil is not as easy as sharpening a regular pencil. Sharpening charcoal pencils is time-consuming and can be frustrating. We highly recommend using the blade or even sandpaper mounted on to a small board to sharpen your charcoal pencil since this is easier than a sharpener and can offer you incredibly fine lines.

Some other kinds of charcoal pencils feature a paper wrap. This kind of charcoal pencil must not be sharpened with a pencil sharpener. You will find a small string that is encased with the pencil’s wrapping, and in order to sharpen this pencil, all you need to do is pull down the string a few centimeters and simply peel the paper away.

The paper will begin to unravel and will reveal the shaft of the charcoal inside that is compressed. While the design of these charcoal pencils is that you don’t need to sharpen them, if you are looking for a neat, sharp tip on this pencil, then you can use a sandpaper sharpening pad. All you need to do is rub the pencil’s tip over this sandpaper and keep rotating it till you are satisfied with the point.

How to Use Charcoal Pencils?

Drawing with a charcoal pencil is just like drawing with graphite pencils. What you would want to first experiment with are the different drawing grips. Just the way you hold the pencil can create a variety of marks on the paper. We will briefly talk about them later in this article.

As mentioned earlier, charcoal pencils come with compressed charcoal inside. This is far harder to erase than vine charcoal, so as a beginner, you should apply light pressure on the paper so that the marks can be easily erased. As and when you become more confident with your drawing skills, you could apply more pressure to produce a darker result.

Different Grips to Hold Your Charcoal Pencil

The way you hold your pencil makes a big difference in the final result. By holding your pencil in one way only, you limit yourself quite substantially, and in drawings, it’s no secret that variety is a critical factor if you want your work to stand out. So, let’s look at some of the different ways you can hold your pencil.

  • Traditional: This is exactly what it sounds like; this is the way we have learned all our life how to hold a pen, and for several folks, this is the only grip they are used to for drawing. This grip is great as it offers a lot of control and is brilliant for detailing. However, only sticking to this grip will limit what you can do with your drawings.
  • Drumstick: This grip is the way a drummer would hold his drumstick. You hold the pencil loosely between your thumb and index finger while all the other fingers work to stabilize the pencil. This grip will allow for the marks from the pencil to originate from the side rather than just the tip. This grip is best for large drawings.
  • Paint Brush: This grip will require you to hold your pencil exactly like the way you would hold your paint brush. This is an ideal grip for creating delicate and light marks. Typically, it is the tip of the pencil that makes contact with the drawing pad.
  • Tip Heavy Overhand: In this grip, you will need to hold the middle of the pencil between the thumb and the middle finger while applying pressure on the tip of the pencil. In this grip, the pencil almost stays parallel with the drawing surface. This grip results in a strong mark which has the potential for a width variance, so it is useful when you need to fill large areas quickly.


For a beginner, knowing how to use charcoal pencils can be quite a daunting task since you will face several issues when you first start trying it out. Nevertheless, after constant practice and using our tips to your advantage, we are confident you will get better at it, and in time, will even become a pro at charcoal drawings.

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