“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.”