Welcome to your charcoal drawing course!

This (digital) workshop consists of many exercises that you can repeat endlessly. Practice is a requirement for a beautiful outcome. The more you practice, the better you will become.

If you’re a beginner in drawing, make sure not to put too much pressure on yourself. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away. The key is to improve and become skilled at it.

If you watch the video lessons first individually, then replay them while drawing along (doing what I demonstrate), you have a great chance of achieving a beautiful result. You can pause the videos wherever you want, rewind and review them. I am very patient and willing to demonstrate it to you many times.

Also, make sure not to use a ruler and eraser. They can disrupt the drawing process.

This course is designed to be completed independently. However, if you have any questions or would like to receive feedback, don’t hesitate to contact us via WhatsApp at +31616959923 (the button is located at the bottom right of your telephone screen).

All the assignments in this course are accompanied by videos that show you how to do the exercises. Take your time to watch them first. Then, replay them while comfortably drawing along.

Graphite or charcoal?

In many do-it-yourself books that focus on drawing, you often come across a variety of materials in the chapter on “materials you can use,” including pencil, chalk, oil pastels, markers, pens, and so on. However, personally, I prefer to stick with pencil. With so many drawing materials available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. That’s why in this course, I prefer to focus on charcoal, charcoal pencils, blending stumps, and kneaded erasers. With these materials, you can create beautiful and rich drawings.

Houtskool komt voor in vele vormen

Nevertheless, I would like to first tell you about some drawing materials and provide a (very) brief technical background.

Pencils The most commonly used pencils have the letters HB written on the top. HB stands for the hardness of the pencil. Pencils come in different hardness grades and are used for various drawing techniques.

Hardness A pencil is made of ground graphite mixed with clay and water. The more clay in the mixture, the harder the pencil. When less clay is used, the pencil becomes softer and produces darker tones. A 9B pencil is very soft, and even with light pressure, it will quickly create a dark line. On the other hand, a 9H pencil is very hard and allows for very light lines. These pencils are often used for technical drawing, for example.

When sketching, it is common to use a medium to light pencil, often an HB. The darker, softer pencils are used to create deep shadows and add dimension to drawings. However, these are not strict rules! You can also sketch effectively with pens or charcoal. It all depends on your personal preference and what you find comfortable or enjoyable.

What are the differences between pencil, graphite, and charcoal?

Charcoal and graphite are both widely used drawing materials. While they share many similarities, there are also significant differences between the two.

Charcoal is created by charring wood through heat! The longer the heating process, the purer the charcoal becomes. With pure charcoal, you can already achieve excellent drawing results!

And what about graphite? Graphite consists of the same chemical element as charcoal, but due to differences in chemical bonding, it appears and behaves differently.

Normal gray pencils, which you have probably been using all your life, are also made of graphite.

A blending stump, also known as a tortillon, is a wonderful and essential drawing tool. But what exactly is it, and what can you do with it?

A blending stump is nothing more than a rolled-up piece of paper with pointed ends. With a blending stump, you can, as the name suggests, blur lines. This is useful if you want to give a drawing a photographic quality. By using a blending stump, you can create very realistic drawings.

How do you use a blending stump? You use this drawing tool to blur lines so that they blend together smoothly. This technique works well with charcoal and soft pencils. With a blending stump, you rub the pointed or slanted end over the surface you want to blend. You can also use it to emphasize shadows. This method is particularly suitable for creating seamless transitions between areas. In portrait drawing, the blending technique is often used to achieve a more realistic look. Essentially, you are smudging the lines.

If you use the blending technique frequently, you’ll notice that your blending stump gets dirty quickly from the smudging. It’s important to be cautious because it can create unwanted smudges where you don’t want them. Always make sure to have a relatively clean blending stump. You can clean the pointed end by rubbing it on a kneaded eraser or a sheet of paper.

It may take some practice and getting used to, but soon you won’t want to be without a blending stump.

Sketching or drawing: which is better to do?

The main difference between sketching and drawing is that sketching is a freehand drawing that can be seen as the (practice) phase of a drawing. However, this is not always the case; a sketch on its own can also be beautiful and “finished.”

Technically, sketching is a freehand drawing made with scratchy lines. It is drawn without aids and even without erasing (erasing disrupts the drawing and creative process). For the artist, a sketch serves as a preliminary study for something more definitive. Sketches are made to explore possibilities and find the best composition. Sketching is more about capturing the essence rather than focusing on details. Therefore, sketches are done with a sense of looseness and exploration, unlike drawing. However, sketching is an ideal way to practice. Often, not much time is spent on making a sketch.

So, what is drawing? Drawing, on the other hand, involves more details and is created using pencils, colored pencils, chalk, pens, pastels, etc. It aims to create more impact and depth. An artist may have a sketchbook where all their quick sketches are stored. Some of these sketches may never see the light of day. However, some sketches are later used to develop into masterful drawings. Drawings are always the final, finished product. Drawing is more cautious, planned, and slower than sketching. An artist can take their time to think about details and refine as much as they want.

Tracing Maybe this is unfamiliar to you, but the majority of illustrators and artists rarely draw or paint something purely from imagination. They always need a reference: a photo or the object they are drawing in front of them on the table. This is particularly essential when dealing with shading. After all, you don’t know from memory where the light is coming from and where the shadows are. Therefore, in this course, you will definitely be tracing everything you draw.

Observation Tracing essentially boils down to closely observing the reference and trying to replicate what you see on paper. This applies not only to the form but also to the shading. Where is the light, and where are the shadows? In this course, we pay a lot of attention to developing good observation skills.

And guess what? It’s actually the most challenging part of drawing—observing well! That can only be achieved through practice. Practicing observation and practicing translating what you see onto paper. With practice, you’ll improve your eye-hand coordination, making tracing easier over time. However, this requires dedication and making it a part of your own practice routine.

  • Take your time. Using short, light strokes (almost like scratching!) allows you to create a sketch with the correct proportions.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable. Whether sitting or standing, position yourself in a way that allows you to draw with a relatively straight arm. A relaxed posture works better. Experiment with different positions.
  • To add some extra depth to your sketch, you can use a softer pencil (>B) to create subtle shading. But remember, sketching can also be done effectively with a regular pen!
  • Don’t force anything! If it’s not working out, take a break and try again later.
  • Avoid using an eraser! Erasing disrupts the drawing process. Instead, keep sketching or start over if needed. Using a pencil eraser (a pencil filled with with a gum eraser) for touch-ups is a close alternative to erasing. By erasing, I mean using a block eraser.
  • Keep your pencils sharp.
  • Practice and try sketching different objects. Don’t worry too much about how it looks. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  • Set your drawing aside and take a step back. Take a break and come back to it later. When you look at your drawing again, you’ll be able to spot mistakes more easily from a fresh perspective.

7 different sketching exercises for you to try

Square. In this video, I will show you how to sketch a square. If you’d like, you can watch the video of this exercise first to see how it’s done. Don’t use a ruler or an eraser! It doesn’t have to be a perfect square. A rectangle is also acceptable, and the lines don’t have to be perfectly straight. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The focus is on sketching, not creating a beautiful drawing.

Circle. Now, do the same, but this time sketch a circle. Just freehand it. Again, it doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. See what I make of it. It looks more like an egg! Definitely not a circle. But that’s okay. It’s the motion you’re practicing: a circular motion.

Cube. Let’s make it a bit more challenging. Sketch a square again. Do it the same way as in the first exercise. Now try to turn it into a cube, like the example. Approach it with loose and sketchy strokes. It doesn’t have to be perfect in one go. Once you’ve done that, add the shadows as well.

Cylinder. We’re going to make it slightly more challenging. Let’s create a cylinder now. Connect two oval shapes with straight lines. Hold the pencil loosely and move your hand freely from the paper.

Cone. Once again, start by sketching an oval shape as a base and turn it into a cone or a pointed hat. It doesn’t have to be a perfect shape. The focus is on the sketching process. Just like with the cube, add a shadow to your sketch.

Sphere. Once again, sketch a circle loosely, just like in exercise 2. For this exercise, I used a bowl to create the round shape. Just like with the cube, add a shadow to your sketch. In this case, the light is coming from the top right, so the opposite side of the sphere is the shadow side. Shade it accordingly, as shown in the example.

Apple. And here it becomes a little more challenging. In this video, I will simply draw an apple. You can print out the image and use it as a reference for your own drawing. First, take a look at the video.

The drawing of different shades of gray

Drawings are not just composed of lines and shapes. To truly enhance a drawing, you ‘color it in’ with shades of gray.

Just like when tracing a photo, where you focus on capturing the shape of a face or determining the form of a cup and saucer, you also need to learn to observe the different shades of gray present in your reference.

Most digital black and white photos consist of 256 shades of gray. Additionally, every photo has a level of contrast, which refers to the difference in brightness between the darkest and lightest areas of the image.

To accurately recreate the appropriate shades of gray and contrast with your pencil, you need to understand how dark or light each shade is. Relying solely on the photo (your reference) for guidance may not yield accurate results, as you can be misled by the photo itself.

By isolating the gray shade of the cheek (as seen in photo A) and viewing it alongside all the other shades of gray in the photo, you might perceive that gray shade in relation to its surroundings. However, when you isolate the gray shade of the cheek using a white sheet of paper with a hole (as shown in B), you can see the true value of that gray shade. It may appear darker than it did in photo A.

Your drawing paper is initially blank and white in areas where you need to add gray shades. Using a tool like A (referring to the white sheet of paper with a hole), you can accurately apply the correct value to your drawing. This tool helps you match the appropriate gray shade and achieve the desired level of contrast in your artwork.

Indeed, perception of gray shades can be influenced by the surrounding context. As you mentioned, the middle square in the four squares with different gray shades appears differently due to the gray shade surrounding it. This principle applies to your drawing as well. The perceived value of a gray shade can be influenced by the tones surrounding it, so it’s important to consider the overall context and surrounding shades when creating a realistic and harmonious drawing.

Using a folded and torn sheet of (printer) paper with two punched holes along the fold can serve as a handy tool for comparing and verifying gray shades both on your reference and your drawing. This tool allows you to isolate specific areas and focus on comparing the values accurately. It’s a simple and effective way to ensure consistency and accuracy in your shading work!

Carefully observe your reference!

You don’t need to be a skilled artist to draw exceptionally well! Having great talent is not a prerequisite for creating beautiful drawings. It primarily comes down to, and I’ll emphasize this repeatedly: observing attentively! Observe your reference closely. When you’re drawing a portrait and aiming for realism, you often encounter the same issue: when working on the eye, you tend to make the whites of the eyes completely white or very light. Take a look at a photo of an eye and pay attention to the whites of the eyes. They are not actually white at all.

The tone of an object is determined by factors such as whether it is illuminated by light or if it is in the shadow of something else. In the photo you mentioned, you can see that the face consists of numerous different tones. This may not be immediately noticeable, but becomes apparent when you observe the reference closely and with precision.

Take a close look at this meadow. Critically observe it. A meadow is green, right? That’s correct, but if you look closely, you’ll notice a wide range of different shades of green. From almost white to very dark green, and everything in between.

It is crucial to be aware that you are observing your reference closely, whether it’s a photo or real-life subject. Always draw what you see, not what you think you know. If something appears incorrect in your drawing or painting, you will need to critically examine your reference again. I face the same challenge myself! Often, things don’t match in my work, and I find myself looking and squinting to figure out why. For me as well, the mantra remains: observe attentively!

Drawing exercise:
the girl in half

This next exercise is also one I often use at the beginning of physical art classes. You can print the attached photo. It’s a highly educational exercise where you cut the photo in half and paste the right half onto a piece of paper. Then, you draw the left half to align with it. The goal is to create a drawing that, when you set it aside and view it from a distance, makes it difficult to distinguish which side is the photo and which side is the drawing. Of course, you know the difference, but it merges together visually. This exercise is meant to be completed within two hours. So, grab your tools and give it your best shot!