Me and charcoal! HA! No match! Terrible, the scratching of the coal stick on my paper…goosebumps, chickenskin and itches all over.

BUT…there comes that time when we have to face our worst enemies! (And then the wolf might turn out to be a sheep in wolfskin…)

In illustration class I’m experimenting with a black, powdery overlay on top of my watercolor…to get more depth and shading…and to give the illustrations a dark haze. So far I was working with graphite, but graphite is shiny and silvery. So, I was looking for something deeper black. Yikes! Turned out charcoal had to be IT!

So…I bought myself three different kinds…

From left to right: I tried Ami natural charcoal sticks 5-6mm finger-friendly partially wrapped with alufoil; a Conté Pierre Noire pencil 2B and a Conté compressed charcoal stick 2B.

For my experiment, I quickly drew a silly face and colored that quickly with watercolor. I was hoping to make shades and depth with charcoal…and I was looking for one that would buff easily without becoming too light. The Conté Pierre Noire pencil I quickly discarded. It didn’t buff very well at all. Even thought the softness is 2B, it was still rather hard and unwilling in my hands. So…that one aside, I tried the Conté compressed charcoals and the Ami natural charcoal sticks….and guess what?


I love how my face turned out…the depth…the shading…the gloomy atmosphere (sorry guys, I am a sucker for melancholy and gloom…;-). And equally important, I loved working with it. The darker lines are done with the compressed charcoals…the rub wonderfully and give a cloudy buff…brownish black…beautiful! For the large background space and overall buff, I used the much softer natural charcoal…it’s a lot more grey than the compressed charcoal, but it worked really well here, because that way my face stands out perfectly in the page. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m thrilled with my new charcoals and I’m looking forward to more experimenting…

All in all I find charcoal a wonderful medium to use in Art Journals (but don’t forget to use fixative or else it WILL mess up the opposite pages). It offers great opportunities for purpose drawings as well as for intuitive hands-on-page rub, buff and shade work. Should you be interested in charcoal, then it’s good to know that the Conté compressed charcoals are available a piece as well (which is good, for this set was VERY much more expensive than I’d expected). They come in HB – B – 2B – 3B and 4B.

Happy Ostara Journaling!!!