Charcoal drawing ideas for beginners

Today, I’m gonna be showing you how I make a charcoal drawing of this super hot guy. I love to teach drawing and mixed media projects to beginner and really artists of all levels. Now I actually have posted this. This is one of the very first projects I posted on my channel, but it was so many years ago that no one has seen it really.

So I wanted to take this old footage, and it’s the perfect timing to showcase this project because my new book on drawing and finding your style is coming out, oh, hopefully in the next month or so. So, stay tuned for information about that. But what is so great about this project is that it really shows the versatility of using charcoal. So when you’re doing super realistic faces, it’s so important not to show any hard lines. We don’t have lines that outline our faces. You can see here the outline. You just have a series of highlights and shadows and you’re gonna learn all about this in my new book and how to take photo references and interpret the shading and highlights so that when you’re drawing you can actually take all that information and plug it into your drawing to make super realistic pieces.

So what’s cool about charcoal is that it’s so smudgy and loose, and if you notice there, the text that came up on the screen was super fast, but I actually stuff a sock with loose charcoal and I pat it around the area to make the general regions that are light and dark. So, in this way, you’re automatically avoiding those harsh lines that can sometimes (laughs), I was talking to you, that sometimes show up when you’re using an instrument like the one I’m using now which is just a good charcoal pencil. So if you’re just using charcoal like that, or a pencil or graphic pencil, you’re getting these harsh lines that do not exist in reality. And so what’s awesome about charcoal, or using really soft graphite and a blending stump, is that you’re just getting those gradations of shadows which is what you need to use to create to make a super realistic face or just a face, it doesn’t have to even be realistic, that has a lot of dimensional.

So you’re taking your 2D paper and object and really transforming it into a three dimensional looking face. So you can see the nose is coming forward towards you and you can see the cheekbones and how chiseled they are. And the ears are these folds that undulate in and around, and all that is is a manipulation of lights and shadows and putting them in the right place. That’s all that is. And drawing realistically is so much more about using the information that you’re looking at and staring at in your reference and recreating that accurately on your paper.

It’s not so much knowing where the features go, although obviously that helps. It is literally about your observational skills and really seeing on your photographic reference what is where and going from one spot around the face slowly, slowly starting wherever you want, that’s not even important, and just interpreting and recreating the darkest darks, the medium tones, and the light. And trying to capture that all. It’s such a different skill than just simply building a face that’s realistic. It’s all lights and shadows. So you really spend most of your time, you’re drawing this way, staring down your reference and really (laughs) oh, I’m just waving to you with my yucky fingers, really just trying to interpret how light is that light and having your value scale. And I’ll put a card, I’ll link to another video that I put about value scale, and using the entire breadth of your value scale.

Order drawing

So you wanna make sure you have the blackest blacks in your drawing and you wanna make sure you’re using all the gray tones, all the way up to your whitest whites. And so using the entire value scale, it gives your drawings the maximum punch. Really, really powerful. And it’s super easy because all you really need is a good eraser. So right now, I’m erasing this charcoal out to create the highlights on his nose, and the lip shine, and all of the little in between places.

And the reason that charcoal is so fantastic, as you can see right there, all you need is some charcoal and your finger. You can do all of this blending with a finger. You don’t need any fancy tools. And I’m using different hardnesses of charcoal to get the different effects. So the charcoal that I’m using right now for the details around his eyes is a little bit harder than the charcoal that’s in the sock, which is super loose charcoal.

So that is something that I’m varying. And then I’m using my blending stump to smudge that around. And then the last tool I’m using is that charcoal pencil. So that’s the hardest of them and obviously it comes to a small tip so that’s ideal for doing details and stuff like that. But it’s just really crazy what you can create with a very, very limited number of supplies. So I challenge you to maybe go to your local art store and pick up a couple pieces of charcoal in varying softnesses. And you can also see that I’m using a little bit of a paint pen as a cheat for the whites in the eyes. That’s just me resorting to my typical mixed media supplies. I am a mixed media artist so I tend to do lots of cheats. You may consider it cheat, I consider it just being efficient. (laughs) So, if you want extra sparkle or extra white, you can always add, use your tools that are in your tool box to make that effective.

So yeah, I challenge you to go to Paintmyphotos gallery. Grab a couple shards of charcoal portraits and see if you can grab a reference that you like. Working with a black and white reference is easiest because you’re literally just looking at the lights and the darks. And see if you can recreate it using the different values in the value scale. So black all the way up to white and everything in between. You can get a couple blending stumps to help you with blending. And you need a really good gum eraser.

You see right now with his ear, I’m carving out the highlights in the ear folds, and then I’m putting back in the darkness, and I’m using my blending stick to get that definition. So if you do this project, let me know in the comment section or if you have a favorite charcoal technique, drop it below in the comment section as well. I will post a playlist for you if you wanna learn more realistic drawing hacks. And don’t forget to subscribe to get my free weekly tutorials in both drawing and mixed media.