Drawing with…

Posted: March 12, 2019

Charcoal and other smudge-tools

Graphite, charcoal, conte pencils… they seem like everyday tools in an artist’s toolbox, yet they shouldn’t be underestimated. There’s no need for expensive materials to create great work!
If not sure about the difference, read more!



The most obvious one is, of course graphite pencils, and graphite in other forms. Mechanical pencils for precise, thin lines, graphite sticks for broad free work and even graphite powder.

No matter how “basic” graphite can seem, it has its own wonders – see the example for how many different shading techniques and patterns are there!


Hatching: Creates shades by applying parallel lines. The closer they are the more even the effect.

Crosshatching: This technique is comprised of a series of intersecting lines. The lines can cross each other at various angles.

Stumping:  This is created by smudging the graphite. It can be done with your finger, a cloth, a paper stump.

Stippling: Is done by creating shades with a series of dots – lots of dots close together create darker shades.



Perhaps the oldest drawing tool is charcoal – that has many different forms as well, such as pencils, powder, sticks or vine.

Artist’s charcoals are made of finely ground organic material and a gum or wax binder. It’s a great tool for producing soft, light lines or intense black surfaces. It’s easily removable yet it leaves stains without the use of fixatives. It can be applied to smooth or course surfaces alike.

Depending on the manufacturing method, there are different charcoal types that have slightly different qualities.

Compressed charcoal is shaped into a block or a stick. Its intensity depends on the hardness – the amount of gum or wax binders that are added to the powder. The harder the charcoal is the lighter the marks are.

Vine charcoal is the long and thin stick that’s made by kiln firing vines. Vine charcoal is great for dusty, soft lines and for covering surfaces, making it less suitable for detailed drawings.

Charcoal pencils are essentially the same as sticks, they just look like a regular pencil. They are great for sharp, thin lines used in detailed drawing as they can be sharpened with a regular pencil sharpener.

Useful tools for Charcoal drawings include blending stumps, paper towels, kneaded and regular erasers.

Charcoal is a great material for drawing, for beginners and professionals alike! It’s relatively easy to use, cheap and you can achieve dramatic light and shadow differences, but it’s Jenny Saville is one example of many professional artists who use charcoal in their practice.

Jenny Saville’s studio



Conté sticks or crayons are composed of powdered graphite or charcoal, mixed with clay or wax and pigments. Nicolas-Jacques Conté.

invented them in 1795 to create a cheap alternative to graphite during the graphite shortage caused by the Napoleonic Wars.


Conté crayons are most commonly black, white, grey and sanguine tones, but with additional pigments they are available in many different colours. They have very good lightfastness.

Conté sticks differ from soft pastels in many ways.

Conté sticks differ from soft pastels in many ways. They are harder and more waxy than the powder-like soft pastels and are suitable to create drawings, unlike the “painterly” soft pastels. It’s easy to control them and they are suitable for small details. They don’t produce a lot of dust.

They are the best on rough paper, but they work on different surfaces like toned paper, canvas, boards, or newsprint.

Anthea Polson ‘s work


  • https://www.craftsy.com/art/article/introduction-to-drawing-with-charcoal/
  • https://design.tutsplus.com/tutorials/the-basics-of-sketching-with-charcoal–cms-23690
  • https://www.artistsnetwork.com/art-mediums/drawing/charcoal-drawing/
  • http://www.paintdrawpaint.com/2010/07/some-ideas-on-charcoal-drawing.html
  • https://keetonsonline.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/interested-in-conte-crayons-but-dont-know-what-they-are-or-how-to-use-them-heres-your-guide/
  • https://www.georgeweil.com/blog/all-about-conte-a-paris-crayons/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cont%C3%A9
  • https://www.artistsnetwork.com/art-techniques/beginner-artist/graphite-pencil-drawing-basics/
  • http://www.toadhollowstudio.com/wp_blog/drawing-painting-powdered-graphite/
  • https://liannewilliams.com/blog/2016/3/2/my-essential-graphite-pencil-techniques
  • http://www.drawingandpaintinglessons.com/Drawing-Lessons/GraphiteStick-Exercise.cfm
  • https://www.strathmoreartist.com/blog-reader/shading-techniques-selecting-paper-for-graphite.html