As they rightly say, practice makes a man perfect and art is a field of talent which requires a talented hand especially when you’re aiming to be a Charcoal Artist. It’s always advised to take a human face photo as a beginner.
There are, some step by step art hacks to make your portrait look more realistic and for starters, to begin with, you should always divide your original image to equal sections with a scale either like checks or slices. It’s also easier to understand and draw the curves of the face and other features when the page is divided into sections somewhat like a graph sheet. Charcoals are excellent for blending and are easier to even erase.
Firstly, there are few things that need to be kept in mind before starting off any charcoal masterpiece:-
The right folio (paper)
This is the life of any painting; it can either make or break your artistic sketch. Before starting off with any Charcoal Sketch, the right size, tone, texture, and type of paper must be known to the Charcoal artist. There are huge varieties of papers available in the market, but the most recommended sheet for is charcoal or pastel paper. It will have the texture you want and would hold your painting. Canson Mi-Teintes, Canson Ingres, Strathmore 500 Series, and Fabriano Tiziano are popular choices.
The correct tools
Tools are the second most important part of a painting. There are n no. of tools available in the market, but the right tools must be handy to the Charcoal artist for an effective sketch. Here we have jotted down the list of all the necessary tools required for a ravishing charcoal drawing:
No, it’s not the usual pencil that we use from Kindergarten, but professionals pencils used to fulfill the purpose. There are 6H, 4H, 2H, H, HB, B, 2B, 4B, 6B, 2H and HB pencils used for different proportions of the sketch. You need to sharpen them according to your needs. Like, a pointed sharpened pencil is used for sketching and a blunt edge is used for shading, stroking and adding gloss.
2. Charcoal Sticks
These are the man’s best creation to sketch industry; they are made to ease your task by covering massive areas at a time. A Charcoal Artist can break and shape it as per his needs.
3. Charcoal powder
Unlike the historic times, with this modern era, many charcoal tools are available and charcoal powder is one such. You can easily find them in markets at minimal costs. It is used to enhance the beauty of a sketch and as a toning material
More than just cleansing your ears, this small tool is also very useful in making a charcoal drawing. It can be used to smudge dark areas and soften the pencil strokes by giving them an edge.
5. Compressed charcoal
It is used to cover dark scenic backgrounds and cover patchy areas. This product is slightly difficult to use for a beginner as it leaves away some dust which needs to be blown away professionally, it is recommended that only if you’ve learned the good art of charcoal drawing, then only use this product.
6. Eraser, Blade & Brush
Again these small things carry out a great advantage in making a sketch. The eraser is used to smudging and highlighting, a blade for sharpening the edges of your pencils and brush to spread away excess powder too.
7. Charcoal Fixative
This small tool defines the life of your sketch on how long will the sketch stay with the person. A charcoal fixative is used after completing your piece of artwork so that the dry ingredients used in the sketch stays. It’s just like the varnish used to avoid smudging and giving a finished look to your sketch.
Start off with a Picture in mind
As a beginner, you should never start off with a blank mind. First of all choose a picture with right proportions and keep it handy with yourself either in person or on your phone. Make a picture in your mind, as what part would you sketch out first. Here are certain tips to choose the appropriate picture for your sketch:
- Proper lighting in the picture, the picture should not be dim and the features of your model should be clean and representative. The light coming from one side of the frame would be considered tremendous.
- It is recommended to avoid a picture with too many filters, the details of the face should be clearly visible.
- The eyes of the person should be open and making chemistry with the camera. For an effective sketch, the eyes are the USP of that portrait so it should be made with utmost care and dedication. Although it’s not a compulsion to choose a picture with open eyes, open eyes also add beauty to a sketch.
- For a beginner, try to avoid making the sketch having too many details. Avoid using a picture having too many accessories or jewelry. Choose a plain picture of a person/pet initially.
- An ideal sketch is considered to have an aspect ratio of either 3:4 or 4:3(landscape). A square sketch does not look good when it comes to charcoal sketch.
Steps to Make The Charcoal Portrait
Draw the outline
The first and the foremost step in charcoal sketching is to draw the rough outline of your desired sketch using a charcoal pencil. You need not, to be super perfect and conscious while drawing the lines, just making a draft of your subject using charcoal pencil strokes.
Spread the Powder
After completing your draft, spread the charcoal powder over your sketch and fix it up with a mop brush. To evenly contrast things use a paper towel and also to wipe off the extra powder.
Make bolder lines
Now, use a normal Camlin HB pencil to draw solid outlines of your subject on which you need to use blunt charcoal tools. Make sure to properly align the lines to the features of your subject.
Start with dark areas
Now it’s time to add volume to your sketch, simply use compressed charcoal to darken the borders of your sketch but don’t dark too much initially.
Time to smoothen
Now after making the dark outlines, it’s time to slow down, smoothen and blend to give a softer finish to your sketch. Make sure you blend nicely so as to give it a natural smudging look. Use Paper stump to achieve the best results of a perfect blend!
Exploit the lighter areas
To get the best shading to highlight the light areas of the sketch use Vine Charcoal. Vine Charcoal is best for light shading of the portrait and keep blending with an earbud.
Highlight the features
Now when the sketching, smudging and charcoal part completes, use a kneaded eraser to add highlights to your sketch and pull off areas that are verbose or need a lighter tone.
Just a Final stroke
After you finish highlighting the features, just add a final finish to your picture. In this step, you can use a charcoal stick to make the boundaries darker or even blending the background a shade dark too.
The Final fix
After you have completed all your Charcoal sketch, it’s high time to add life to your hard work. Once, you complete spray the final Charcoal Fixative to your masterpiece so that it won’t smudge, blotch or tarnish.
And you’re done with your very first handmade Charcoal Drawing, Congratulations on being a Charcoal Artist now.
Mentioned below are certain steps on how to improve the sketching of particular features of your subject:
There are a few art hacks to make your portrait look more realistic and for starters, to begin with, you should always divide your original image to equal sections with a scale either like checks or slices. It’s easier to understand and draw the curves of the face and other features when the page is divided into sections somewhat like a graph sheet.
A charcoal artist can also, draw the basic outline with light hands so you have an idea of the positioning of the facial features. This is the step where you can do a lot of erasing and redrawing because this will shape your portrait further. Carefully, establish the position of the head, eyes, lips, etc. lightly like a basic outline. When you are satisfied with the placement and proportions of the head you can begin to outline the features of the face in more detail.
Also. Check out our time-lapse video to understand the overall portrait procedure quickly and then we can move further with specific facial parts.
For the eyes, a Charcoal artist should always prefer using soft pencil/4B/6B. Firstly draw the basic outline of the eye (almond-like shape) and iris with a normal pencil. Do not hold the pencil too firmly and allow it to draw free strokes in the eye. Also, draw fine lines to show nerves around the iris and keep smudging them to give it a translucent look. Use the charcoal to darken the iris and the eyelid outline. Once done, smudge the nerve lines to give the eyes a soft look. Keep creating layers of charcoal shadings and smudge them to make it look deep and realistic.
For the eyelids and eyelashes, you have to judge your own drawing if it looks right, that’s literally the way- hit and trial. Above the eyelid outline lightly sketch and shade the skin folds of the eyelid. Leave a white spot on the iris too to make it look realistic.
For a visual representation, a link is provided for your pursual.
The hair is also a collection of fine lines smudged to give it a collected voluminous look. Use a small piece of eraser/white charcoal to show white spaces between the hair strands. Start by making numerous light strokes in the direction of the flow. Make them very thin, close and in the same direction. Smudge the lines with an earbud/brush to give it a dense look and you could use an earbud too. Using a kneaded eraser you can make some white spaces to show the sunlight/ shading on the hair. Remember to use an earbud/brush to merge the hair strokes in the direction of the hair flow. Also, darken a few strands to show a thicker collection of hair in that particular area. Draw the tiny untidy strands that spring out of the natural flow in the end also.
For a clearer visual representation check out this link
For the nose, Also draw a circular outline and make two light vertical lines on either end. Now draw the nostrils’ curvature and shade them with the nose bridge according to the original photo. Finely define the tip of the nose and merge the nose bridge a more shaded look. Now, define the edges of the nose with a darker grip of the charcoal. The nose bridge also should be connected with the inner eye corners and shading should be done inwards from the cheek to the nose. If you’re comfortable with the way your outcome looks, start adding more layers to the darker areas which were the nose edges to give it a more shaded look.
For a visual representation of the explanation visit
Lastly, the charcoal drawing lips, draw the basic outlines very lightly with a pencil too. Make the inner line that divides upper lip to the lower lip darker to make the features look stronger. Lightly color the base of the lips and merge it by smudging it with a brush or an earbud. Shade in the graphite inwards i.e. from outer to inner of the mouth. If the lips look grainy due to the graphite shading, don’t worry, once you blend it’ll also look very smooth Then sketch the second layer by shading it darker. Once you complete the inner lips start sketching outside the boundaries of the lips to give it the 3D effect. Use an earbud to merge it lightly.
Draw and darken the lip creases and the lip division with the charcoal, in the end, to make it look definite. You can lighten the bulged lip parts with a kneaded eraser to show the sunlight shading.
For a better understanding of artistic realistic mouth, you may refer to this video
These are also some tips that will help you to give your artworks perfection with practice. Also, remember the process of being perfect in portrait sketching isn’t overnight magic, you’ll have to practice a lot to get better at it and you should never feel let down for not getting the desired outcome because there’s always the next time. Keep trying, keep growing, keep sketching.
For references, you can see some of the best Charcoal Portraits by the expert charcoal artist.