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Drawings in Charcoal Down and Dirty

Updated on August 21, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Exercise in drawing hands
Exercise in drawing hands | Source


I start with pencil.

Any soft lead or #2 pencils will work for sketching. But I prefer mechanical pencils with .7 HB or BB lead. The HB is a soft dark lead but not the softest. Even the BB is not the softest lead. The mechanical pencils keep me from having to bother with sharpening my pencil in the middle of a drawing plus they are always thin enough to keep a consistent line.

Pencils are made with different degrees of hardness. The pencil "lead" is no longer made of lead because of the dangers of lead poisoning. (I was fascinated when I learned this!) Pencil lead is made of mixtures of carbon and clay. More carbon makes the lead soft and dark. More clay makes the lead hard and the marks lighter. The letters H and B denotes these. The softest, darkest pencil is 4B or 6B, which means they also break easiest. The hardest, lightest lead is 4H or even 6H, used by architects who need a light fine line, and lead that will not break easily. I usually like a 2B or 4B but often settle for HB, which is right in the middle. Charcoal pencils are designated by the same letters for softness and hardness that the graphite pencils are.

For regular wooden pencils, keep a knife and a small piece of sandpaper or a little pad of sandpaper sheets for keeping a quick point on your pencil. These are sometimes easier to carry than a pencil sharpener. Using a knife can also give you a longer point to the pencil so that you can lay it sideways and get wide as well as fine lines from the same pencil.

Exercise in drawing feet
Exercise in drawing feet | Source

Some Things I Learned Drawing Feet

I learned many things about the toes. One thing is that they are rarely round. They really are rather squared, especially the middle three. The little toe always seems to lay sideways, is usually turned inward and somewhat tapered compared to the rest of the toes. Another interesting thing that I didn’t notice before is the ankle. You have two ankles above each foot, right? Yes, but did you know that the inside ankle is always slightly higher on the leg than the outside ankle. I never noticed before.

I learned that on the average, the feet are twice as long as they are wide. There are exceptions, of course, like with babies feet. I noticed that the toes are never perfectly straight; instead, they seem to come out from the foot, turn downward, and sometimes out again. I learned that most people cannot wiggle their little toe independent from the others, just like most people cannot wiggle their ears.

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

— Pablo Picasso
Exercise drawing feet
Exercise drawing feet | Source

Posting on Social Media

After posting my drawings on social media, some of my friends and family were impressed as well. One friend was inspired by my 100 hands and asked if we could draw 100 days of something together next during the following 3 months. So I was very happy to take her up on her offer and we will be drawing 100 faces together for the next 3 months and posting them to compare. I always size my photos down to about 9 inches on the longest side and 72 dpi for posting on the web.

Exercise drawing hands
Exercise drawing hands | Source


Drawing is fundamental to the seeing process. It is an “active way of engaging reality, to observe, analyze, and record it with the possibility of reimagining it.” (Eviston, web) What we artists are doing is learning to see and then translating that into lines that allow the viewer to see as we do or what we do. We do more than cameras can do (merely capture the image). If done well, we artists capture the feeling, the soul of the person, the soul of the foot (pun intended) or whatever object.

Eviston, Brent. How Learning to Draw Had Taught Me to Live, Artists Network, web, 13 May 2016.

Exercise drawing hands
Exercise drawing hands | Source

Drawing What You See

When I was much younger, my dad and I were in the living room, he would be watching TV and I would be drawing. He looked over at me and asked why I didn’t draw him. This seemed a good moment to capture him while he wasn’t moving so I did a quick sketch. He was somewhat offended because I drew in all three chins. I was trying to capture exactly what I saw and not the essence of the gesture. Most people don’t want to know they have a variety of chins, rolls, or wrinkles. If they wanted that, they would take a photo. The artist has the opportunity to make reality better, so leave out the hard wrinkles and lines around a woman’s mouth and eyes, simplify the layers of a man’s chin(s) and take off 10 to 20 pounds. People will think you are a genius.

The sad thing is that I didn't keep that drawing of my dad. I wish I had.

Exercise drawing ears
Exercise drawing ears | Source

We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.

— Earl Nightingale
Study of a little girl
Study of a little girl | Source

Exercise in Seeing

Whenever you visit the home of a friend, whether you have been there before or not, try to quiz yourself later on the details. What color was the carpet? The walls? The front door? What color were the couch and general furniture? If you were to paint a painting for that home, what colors do you think they would prefer? It is amazing how often we visit people’s homes and walk away unable to tell a stranger anything at all about the decor. We simply don’t train our eye to “see” those things, or we don’t consciously remember them. I think this is why many crimes go unsolved. Too many witnesses simply are not trained to "see" what is right in front of them.

Next time you visit somewhere, take a moment to consciously notice the details. You will be training your eye as an artist and your friend will be impressed that you noticed what she probably took pains to arrange.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Study of a girl
Study of a girl | Source

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

— St. Francis of Assisi

Final Thoughts

Feel free to ask me any questions or advice in the comments below. I’m happy to help people and talk about art.

My friend Dennis drawing his son live.
My friend Dennis drawing his son live. | Source

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