Drawing with charcoal

By John, 22 September, 2011

People draw with charcoal sticks, right? Charcoal sticks are expensive. Why can't I pick up some charcoal from a fire and draw with it?

A child's hands drawing with charcoal

Well, I can. And it works.... okay. The problem is it's hard to get a really deep black. Straight charcoal doesn't dig in to the paper, it sits on top of the paper. If I draw over a line I've already made, I'm pushing the other charcoal out of the way. There gets to be a bunch of it on the surface of the paper. And, of course, it's really easy to smear.

This picture shows how easy it is to smear charcoal on paper.

I guess the next step is to crush it and mix it with some kind of binder. If I use wax I'll get crayons, if I use clay I'll get conte crayons (broadly speaking).

At any rate, the kids had fun, and clean up was super easy because the dust didn't stick to anything and we tried to keep them from grinding it into the carpet.

A child's hands drawing with charcoal

Member for

12 years 11 months


12 years 8 months ago

I've done a lot of drawing with charcoal (store-bought, not "real," so not sure of the difference there), and in my experience it greatly depends on the kind of paper you use. Ordinary printer-type paper is too slick, but thick textured drawing paper will soak up more of the charcoal and give you much more leverage to play with its wide range of shadings. (And if you really want to get into it, it's also worthwhile to get some fixative, both so that you can do multiple coats and so that you can preserve what you want to keep -- without it charcoal drawings will smear and fade at the slightest excuse, especially on regular paper.)

Member for

13 years


12 years 8 months ago

Hmmmmmm... so maybe my charcoal is just charcoal then?

I made some charcoal sticks of my own while on vacation. I put some maple sticks in tinfoil and threw them in a fire. The tinfoil was too thin and several packets got breached and flamed up before I figured out what was going on. I fished the rest out of the fire and clipped off the parts that were on fire and burned myself and... yeah. Then my kids got ahold of the remaining sticks and now I have stick pieces.

Next time I'll make it in the grill. Then a log won't land on it.

Anonymous (not verified)

12 years 8 months ago

When making your own charcoal stick you shouldn't open whatever they are sealed in until they've cooled off.