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Art Supplies, Charcoal Drawing: Compressed Charcoal

-Achieves very rich, deep blacks.

-Much more permanent than vine charcoal.

-Once compressed charcoal touches the white paper, you can lighten it, but you cannot go back to the white of the paper, no matter how hard you erase.

-Not remotely as fragile as vine charcoal.

-Can be lightened with eraser sticks, white plastic erasers, and kneaded erasers.

Art Supplies: Compressed Charcoal


Video transcript
“Compressed charcoal is a powerful tool for creating deep, beefy blacks. It comes in long sticks like this, but you want to take it, and break it into a piece that’s about one inch long. This allows it to become much more versatile when you draw. You can make a very thin, very beautiful line like this, but then you can also go in and block in very large areas of tone.

Compressed charcoal is a much bigger commitment than vine charcoal because it’s a lot tougher to erase. You can definitely take an eraser and whiten areas of compressed charcoal, but you’ll never get back to that white of the page.

A lot of people are afraid to use compressed charcoal for this reason. So the trick is, when you first start drawing with a compressed charcoal, you want to press hard enough that you can visibly see the tone, but you don’t want to press down to a pure solid black like this, which would be very difficult to erase.

Compressed charcoal should be the heart of your drawing. For example, in the drawing on the left, the student only used find charcoal so the portrait looks dull and gray. On the right, the student did her initial sketch in vine charcoal and drew many layers of compressed charcoal on top, giving the portrait a dramatic rich quality.

Compressed charcoal is where the real action is in a drawing, it might seem intimidating at first, but if you embrace it, you’ll find that you can create tremendous steps in your drawings.”

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2 responses on "Compressed Charcoal"

  1. My first charcoal drawings were 90% vine charcoal because most of my charcoal classes ended before we got to the compressed charcoal. When I heard someone say 60% of the drawing should be in compressed charcoal, it changed my drawings entirely. Before I used the compressed, I felt like my charcoal drawings were “wax on, wax off” and I could never achieve any deep tones. When I started using the compressed charcoal in my kit, my drawings became much more dimensional. I put colored artist’s tape on the different hardnesses so I don’t accidentally grab the wrong one. Orange for 2B, Green for 4B and no tape for 6B (I kept taking it off to use the long end).

  2. Compressed charcoal was scary to work with at first since it can’t be erased, but when I became comfortable with it, I realized how much it adds to a drawing. With compressed charcoal, I am able to get extremely dark marks and intense contrast– something I can’t get with vine charcoal.

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