How to Draw Realistic Charcoal Pencil Art: Tips and Techniques for Beginners
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


Choosing the Right Materials

Shading Techniques

Drawing Realistic Textures

Mastering Light and Shadow

Drawing Tips for Beginners

Charcoal pencil drawing can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby for both beginners and experienced artists. With a few tips and techniques, you can create stunning, realistic artwork using charcoal pencils. In this blog, we'll cover the essential materials you'll need, shading techniques, drawing realistic textures, mastering light and shadow, and some helpful drawing tips for beginners. Let's start by choosing the right materials for your charcoal pencil drawing journey.

Choosing the Right Materials

Before you begin your charcoal pencil drawing, it's important to gather the right materials. Knowing what to use can make a significant difference in your drawings. In this section, we'll discuss charcoal pencil types, paper choices, and additional drawing tools you might find helpful.

Charcoal Pencil Types

There are several types of charcoal pencils available, and each has its unique characteristics:

  • Vine charcoal: Soft, lightweight, and easy to erase, vine charcoal is perfect for sketching and creating light shades.
  • Compressed charcoal: Denser and darker than vine charcoal, compressed charcoal is available in various hardness levels, making it ideal for adding bold, dramatic shadows.
  • Charcoal pencils: Encased in wood, these pencils offer a more controlled and precise drawing experience. They're available in different hardness levels, from soft to hard, allowing you to create a wide range of values and shades.

As a beginner, it's a good idea to experiment with different charcoal pencil types to find what works best for your drawing style.

Paper Choices

When it comes to charcoal pencil drawing, the paper you choose can greatly impact your artwork. Here are some options:

  • Drawing paper: Smooth and medium-weight, drawing paper is versatile and suitable for most charcoal pencil drawings.
  • Charcoal paper: Textured specifically for charcoal mediums, charcoal paper helps to hold the charcoal in place and create smoother gradations in shading.
  • Toned paper: Available in various colors, toned paper can add depth and richness to your drawings, while also making it easier to create highlights and shadows.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different types of paper until you find the one that best suits your charcoal pencil drawing style.

Additional Drawing Tools

Beyond charcoal pencils and paper, there are a few additional tools that can enhance your drawing experience and improve your charcoal pencil drawings:

  • Kneaded eraser: Soft and moldable, kneaded erasers are perfect for lifting charcoal and creating highlights without damaging your paper.
  • Blending stumps: Also known as tortillons, blending stumps help you to smudge and blend charcoal for smooth shading transitions.
  • Fixative spray: To prevent your finished charcoal pencil drawing from smudging, a fixative spray can be applied to seal and protect your artwork.

With the right materials in hand, you're now ready to explore shading techniques and bring your charcoal pencil drawings to life.

Shading Techniques

Shading is an essential part of charcoal pencil drawing, as it can add depth, dimension, and realism to your artwork. There are several shading techniques you can employ to create various textures and effects. In this section, we'll cover hatching and cross-hatching, stippling, and smudging.

Hatching and Cross-Hatching

Hatching and cross-hatching are popular shading techniques that involve creating a series of lines to build up value and texture. Here's how you can use these techniques in your charcoal pencil drawings:

  • Hatching: Draw parallel lines close together to create a shaded area. The closer the lines, the darker the shading will appear. Experiment with line spacing and angles to achieve the desired effect.
  • Cross-hatching: Build upon hatching by adding another layer of lines, crossing over the first set at an angle. Repeat this process with additional layers to create darker, more textured shading.

Remember to keep your lines consistent and controlled for a more polished look in your charcoal pencil drawings.


Stippling is a shading technique that involves creating a series of dots to build up value and texture. The closer the dots, the darker the shading will appear. This technique can be time-consuming, but it's great for creating intricate textures and patterns in your charcoal pencil drawings. To master stippling, practice varying the density and size of your dots to achieve different shading effects.


Smudging is a shading technique that involves blending and softening your charcoal pencil marks to create smooth transitions and gradients. You can use a blending stump, a tissue, or even your finger to smudge your charcoal marks. Here are some tips for effective smudging:

  • Apply gentle pressure when smudging to avoid damaging your paper or unintentionally removing too much charcoal.
  • Work from light to dark areas to prevent unwanted smudging of lighter values.
  • Keep your smudging tools clean by wiping them on a scrap piece of paper to remove excess charcoal.

Experiment with these shading techniques to find the best approach for your charcoal pencil drawing style. Now, let's learn how to draw realistic textures using charcoal pencils.

Drawing Realistic Textures

One of the most captivating aspects of charcoal pencil drawing is the ability to create realistic textures. This can bring your artwork to life and make it more visually appealing. In this section, we'll cover techniques for drawing fur and hair, wood and stone, and metal surfaces.

Fur and Hair

To create realistic fur and hair textures in your charcoal pencil drawings, follow these steps:

  1. Start with a light sketch of the overall shape and flow of the fur or hair.
  2. Use hatching or cross-hatching techniques to create the base shading, considering the direction and length of the fur or hair strands.
  3. Add layers of shading to create depth and dimension, paying attention to the light source and shadows.
  4. Use a blending stump or your finger to gently smudge the charcoal, creating a soft and smooth texture.
  5. Add individual fur or hair strands with a sharp charcoal pencil to create detail and realism.

Remember to study reference photos to understand the unique characteristics of different types of fur and hair, and practice frequently to develop your technique.

Wood and Stone

Wood and stone textures can add a natural and organic feel to your charcoal pencil drawings. Here are some tips for drawing these textures:

  • Wood: Observe the grain patterns and knots in wood, and use hatching or cross-hatching techniques to replicate these details. Vary the pressure of your charcoal pencil to create subtle value shifts, and smudge the charcoal to blend the shading smoothly.
  • Stone: Start with a base shading using hatching or stippling, then add irregular lines and shapes to represent cracks and crevices. Apply darker shading in areas of shadow, and use highlights to emphasize the texture and form of the stone.

Again, studying reference photos and practicing regularly will help you improve your wood and stone drawing skills.

Metal Surfaces

Metal surfaces can be challenging to draw with charcoal pencils, as they often have smooth, reflective qualities. To create realistic metal textures, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the light source and the direction of the reflections on the metal surface.
  2. Apply a base shading using hatching or cross-hatching, focusing on the areas of shadow.
  3. Create smooth gradients by smudging the charcoal, blending the shaded areas with the lighter, reflective areas.
  4. Add highlights with an eraser or by leaving areas of the paper untouched, emphasizing the reflective nature of the metal surface.

Keep practicing and experimenting with different metal surfaces to develop your skills and understanding of their unique characteristics.

Now that we've covered some techniques for drawing realistic textures, let's dive into mastering light and shadow in your charcoal pencil drawings.

Mastering Light and Shadow

Light and shadow play a crucial role in bringing depth, dimension, and realism to your charcoal pencil drawings. By understanding and mastering these elements, you can create more dynamic and engaging artwork. In this section, we'll discuss value, contrast, and the use of highlights.

Understanding Value

Value refers to the range of lightness and darkness in your drawing. In charcoal pencil drawing, mastering value is essential for creating the illusion of depth and form. To improve your understanding of value, practice these techniques:

  • Create value scales: Draw a series of boxes and shade them progressively from light to dark, ensuring a smooth gradation between each box.
  • Study the values in reference photos: Observe the light and dark areas in your reference photos and try to replicate them in your drawings.
  • Experiment with different charcoal pencil types: Hard, medium, and soft charcoal pencils produce different values, so practice using each type to find the right balance for your artwork.

Creating Contrast

Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of your drawing. Strong contrast can make your artwork more visually striking and help to emphasize focal points. To create contrast in your charcoal pencil drawings:

  • Identify the light source and the direction of the shadows it creates.
  • Apply darker shading in areas of shadow, using soft charcoal pencils or building up layers with medium and hard pencils.
  • Preserve areas of light by leaving the paper untouched or using an eraser to create highlights.
  • Use midtones to transition smoothly between light and dark areas, creating a sense of depth and form.

Using Highlights

Highlights are the areas of your drawing that reflect the most light. They play a significant role in creating the illusion of depth and realism in your charcoal pencil drawings. To effectively use highlights:

  • Leave areas of the paper untouched to create the brightest highlights.
  • Use an eraser to remove charcoal and create highlights in areas that have already been shaded.
  • Consider the texture of the subject when adding highlights, as different materials will produce different highlight effects (e.g., sharp and reflective for metal, soft and diffused for fabric).

With a solid understanding of light and shadow, your charcoal pencil drawings will come to life. Now, let's explore some helpful drawing tips for beginners.

Drawing Tips for Beginners

As a beginner in charcoal pencil drawing, it's essential to develop good habits and practice regularly to improve your skills. In this section, we'll discuss warm-up exercises, drawing from reference, and the importance of practice.

Warm-Up Exercises

Just like athletes, artists can benefit from warming up before diving into their main artwork. Warm-up exercises help to loosen your hand and improve your focus. Try these exercises before starting your charcoal pencil drawing:

  • Draw circles and ellipses in various sizes and directions.
  • Practice making straight lines, both horizontal and vertical, without using a ruler.
  • Sketch simple shapes like triangles, squares, and polygons.
  • Create value scales to familiarize yourself with different charcoal pencil types and shading techniques.

Drawing from Reference

Drawing from reference is an excellent way to improve your observational skills and understanding of form, light, and shadow. As a beginner, you should:

  • Choose reference photos with clear lighting and contrast to better understand how light and shadow interact with the subject.
  • Break down complex subjects into simple shapes, and build up the details gradually.
  • Pay close attention to the relationships between different elements in the reference, such as the size and angle of different parts.
  • Experiment with different shading techniques, like hatching and smudging, to accurately represent the textures in your reference photo.

Practice Makes Perfect

Improving your charcoal pencil drawing skills takes time and dedication. Remember, practice is the key to progress. To get the most out of your practice sessions:

  • Set aside regular time for drawing, even if it's just a few minutes a day.
  • Challenge yourself by drawing different subjects, textures, and lighting conditions.
  • Seek feedback from others, such as friends, family, or online communities, to gain new perspectives and insights.
  • Be patient and enjoy the process. Your skills will grow over time, and each drawing is an opportunity to learn and improve.

By following these tips and techniques, you'll be well on your way to creating realistic and captivating charcoal pencil drawings. Remember, practice, patience, and a keen eye for observation are essential components of artistic growth. Keep drawing, and enjoy the journey!

If you're looking to explore the world of charcoal drawing, don't miss the workshop 'Connecting To Drawing With Charcoal' by Molley May. This workshop will provide you with the techniques and inspiration to unlock your creativity and master the art of charcoal drawing. Dive in and discover the unique world of charcoal today!