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Charcoal art is an ever popular medium. With the ability to create beautiful and expressive art. We take a look at some of the best charcoal pencils we could find. As well as answering a few of the common questions that come up for those that are new to the medium.
This is a fun one, so let’s get into it.
In a hurry? Here are our favorites
- We think these are the best charcoal pencils
Best Charcoal Pencils
General’s 5 piece set
The gold standard when it comes to charcoal pencils is General’s. This 5 piece set has everything that you need, and is a great pick up for those looking to take their first steps as a charcoal artist. It’s also a great choice for more experienced artists.
The set includes charcoal pencils in a range of grades: 2B, 4B, 6B. As well as a white charcoal pencil and a kneaded eraser. The pencils also come pre-sharpened, to save you the hassle before your first use.
The pencils are generally consistent, much more so than most of the competition. With the range of grades you have access to dark blacks, as well as more delicate shading with the harder pencils. The white pencil works really well as a way of bringing out highlights.
As we said, this gold standard. Simply put the General’s 5 piece set contains the best charcoal pencils on the market.
Faber-Castell Pitt Charcoal Tin
As is often the case in these round-ups, we find ourselves talking about Faber-Castell once again. They are a brand that creates high quality across the board, and their charcoal pencils are no different, being some of the best.
The Pitt Charcoal Tin is a one stop shop for all things charcoal. This kit alone would be enough to take you from beginner to proficient artist. The tin contains: an assortment of charcoal sticks, natural charcoal pencils, compressed charcoals, a kneaded eraser and a blending stump. The pencils are in various grades across the spectrum of hardness. They really have all the bases covered.
The pencils in particular are great to draw with. They draw smoothly on a wide range of different papers and are easy to blend to a smooth and even finish. All of the charcoal included is of a high quality.
We really like the fact that you can buy one thing and have a try off all the different types of charcoal.
Derwent Charcoal Pencils Set
Now, these Derwent pencils are more of a complimentary piece to a set like the generals we discussed.
They have some high-points, such as the fact that they draw in a smooth fashion and without that annoying squeak that you get with some other pencils. They’re water soluble. They also have a black that is comparable to some of the other best charcoal pencils out there. Lastly, they don’t seem to be as fragile as some of their counterparts so they may be a good option for artists on the go.
The set itself contains a range of pencils. 3 charcoal pencils in a range of hardnesses, 1 tinted charcoal pencil, 2 white compressed charcoals and a sharpener. This is a fairly comprehensive set of equipment.
Unfortunately, their price and overall quality means they lag behind a little. We would recommend the derwent charcoal pencils for those die hard derwent fans. They are also a good complementary set, pencils you can take out and about with you.
Conté Pierre Noir Charcoal Pencil
This is a pencil that is often sold as a black sketching pencil, but make no mistake. It is definitely a charcoal pencil, one of the best out there in fact.
This is a pencil that can produce one of the blackest blacks we have seen. With a rich tone and a smooth laydown the Conté Pierre Noir definitely deserves to be on our list of best charcoal pencils.
As we said this is somewhat of a cult favorite. Prefered by some over the incumbent general’s due to the extremely smooth lay down. The pierre noir can be purchased as a single pencil with various grades available. This means you only have to buy what you need. A great way to save on costs.
For these reasons the Conté Pierre Noir is a great option for those looking for a charcoal pencil.
General’s Primo Euro
Another appearance for General’s – they just really know their charcoal pencils. This time is the Primo Euro set. This is a more premium version to previous (though only slightly). The difference being that these pencils are handmade in small batches with a bespoke charcoal formula.
The 6 six piece set contains: 1 primo bianco (white) charcoal pencil, 3 primo euro blend charcoal pencil, 1 sharpener and 1 Factis Magic black eraser.
These pencils are an iteration on what many already consider to be the best charcoal pencils you can buy. They have been improved by providing even darker and richer black. They are far darker than their grade values would have you believe, often performing like a pencils a few grades softer from other brands. This is complemented by an improvement in the lay down of the pencil.
The charcoal itself has been ground very fine, as per the bespoke formula. This brings the ability to smudge and blend to another level.
The Primo Euro from General’s are a slightly different take on what a charcoal pencil should be. With a black that is beyond that of most other pencils this could be a great pickup for you.
Types of Charcoal
Compressed charcoal comes from charcoal that has been initially ground down. It is then mixed with gum, clay and binder and compressed into crisp sticks. This is also what makes up the “lead” of charcoal pencils. With the stick of compressed charcoal simply encased in wood for cleaner handling.
Vine or Willow Charcoal
Vine and willow charcoal is usually made by burning a stick or a vine in a kiln (go figure). This type of charcoal does not provide quite as black a black as their compressed equivalents. But this can come in handy as this means they are easier to erase.
They are also a great way to shade large areas more quickly than you could with a charcoal pencil. Many use vines as their preferred form of charcoal.
Lastly there is charcoal powdered. This is most commonly applied to the page with a brush (you can try with either a wet or a dry brush). When the powder is applied in this manner you can get some really beautiful effects. Soft and delicate shading or gradation is achieved with ease.
Which Type of Charcoal Should I Use?
Honestly, I don’t know. This is very much a personal choice dictated by style, preference, and the type of art you want to create. Also, how messy you want to get. The best thing for a beginner to do is to get a little sample of all the various options and give them a go. See what you like.
Oftentimes, more experienced artists will mix and match the different types of charcoal in a single piece. You could easily imagine someone drawing the subject of their piece with vine. Filling in the sharp details with compressed charcoal or a charcoal pencil. And doing the background with charcoal powder.
When Creating Art with Charcoal Pencils
How to Sharpen your Charcoal Pencils?
Don’t use a pencil sharpener! Well you can if you really want to. For the most part you’ll end up with a crumbled mess of charcoal and no sharp tip.
The common advice is to use a razer or sharp knife to remove the wood and shape the tip. You can even use a little sandpaper for the finishing touches. Safety first. Make sure to have an adult do this (if you aren’t one) and if you are, please be careful. Here are some tips and safety advice on how to sharpen your charcoal pencils.
I know not everyone wants to deal with sharpening a pencil with a knife. You can of course use a pencil sharpener instead. It may however take some trial and error to find one that works effectively with your pencils. And even then it’s best to take care when sharpening as charcoal is very brittle and easily crumbles.
How to Seal a Charcoal Drawing when Finished?
There are some varied opinions in the charcoal drawing community on whether or not you should seal your drawings when you are finished. Some, for obvious reasons, say you should. This is to prevent smudging and loss of material over time, to preserve the piece. Others say no, as the application of a fixative can change the appearance of your artwork if done incorrectly.
For the most part, it’s up to you. However, if you are doing work in a sketchbook it’s probably a good idea to seal your work. Otherwise you are very likely to ruin all your hard work.
There is some variation in the options out there for fixative. Do you want a matte or glossy finish? Do you want something that will seal your work completely, or something that will leave your art workable after use?
What Eraser Should I use for Charcoal Drawing?
We all make mistakes. But if you are new to charcoal drawing it is not immediately clear whether you can use a normal eraser for charcoal.
The recommended type of eraser for charcoal drawing is the kneaded eraser. This is quite different to what you might be used to. This is an eraser that requires constant kneading and stretching. It can be molded to the shapes you require of it. Such as forming a sharp tip. This is hugely useful for tool artists.
Erasers are generally used a little differently when doing work with charcoal. Due the way the material is laid down, it is very difficult to erase to a white page (nie on impossible) as you might with a graphite drawing pencil. This means that oftentimes erasers are used more as a tool to augment the art work. A way to bring areas of light (highlights) and do interesting things with areas of lighter shading. These are known as subtractive drawing techniques and also utilize a kneaded eraser, like this one from General.
What Paper Should I use for Charcoal pencils?
As with all mediums there can be large differences when using different papers. You may just want to do your work in a sketchbook, in which case something intended for mixed media or charcoal specifically will work great.
Generally, the thing that sets charcoal paper or pads from other types of paper is that it has a somewhat toothy surface. This is to enable the material to properly grip to the surface when deposited. At the same time you will find that the weight is much lower than watercolor paper for example.
We would recommend that you look for paper of quite a large size. This will allow you to work all over a large space all at once, without having to use fixative too often.
I’m sure that this article has been a bit like drinking from a firehose. There are so many options even when just looking at just the best charcoal pencils. And then you add willow, vine and other variants into the mix. It’s down right overwhelming.
At the end of the day, the only way to find out what works for you is to get your hands dirty and experiment. Everyone has different preferences and styles. Also, remember to try things on different types of paper as this can also make a difference.