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Drawing techniques: using carbon, charcoal, and graphite.

Updated on April 18, 2010

The secret to dramatic, no shine, black and white pencil drawings.

Hello and Welcome...I would first like to encourage you to visit my website and studio blog at Marsha Robinett Fine Art, where you will find dramatic fine art pencil drawings.  I use predominately carbon pencil with accents of charcoal and graphite where my subject requires.   It is the combination of these three pencils that is the subject of this lens. 

If you are familiar with graphite, you are also familiar with what I refer to as  "the curse of the graphite shine"...the darker you go, the greater the shine!  I will first deal with the "curse", then do some tutorials....and other surprises.

I hope you will check back often for updates.

Please contact me with your questions. 

Enjoy, Marsha

To shine or not to shine?

I drew as a child and picked it up again in 2003. I had no formal art education so I took some basic drawing classes and workshops. I loved the way black and white art was uncomplicated...I felt the lack of color allowed the viewer to see the colors in their own mind.

Using graphite, I refined my technique and grew as a pencil artist...yet I hated the "graphite shine". I wanted to see deep rich darks that pulled the eye into the drawing and pushed the shadows back, but instead the graphite shine pulled everything forward. I know some graphite artists consider the shine a characteristic of the medium and overlook the shine. For me it grew increasingly offensive.

The Carbon Pencil is my new "Graphite"...

In 2004 I took a workshop from JD Hillberry...the workshop proved to be a turning point in my career as a pencil artist. It was here that I was introduced to the magnificent CARBON PENCIL. I took what I learned at the workshop and made it my own. I expanded my knowledge and developed my own style...I haven't stopped drawing since!

The difference cannot be denied...

Take a good close look at the images posted here...

Then, visit my On Line Studio. You will notice that there's nothing wimpy about my pencil drawings. They're dramatic...with deep darks, subtle mid-tones, and bright highlights, just like "The Fork and Spoon Club" pictured below.

I know you can't tell on your computer screen, but trust me, there isn't one ounce of unnecessary "shine" anywhere. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE CARBON PENCIL... and combining charcoal and graphite where they are needed for accurate representation of texture.

Since most pencil artists use graphite exclusively, I am probably in an uphill battle here, and more than likely have ruffled a few feathers. If so, please forgive me; but I fell in love with the Carbon Pencil when it first touched the paper. I guess you could say it had me at "hello."

Studio Notes: "The Fork and Spoon Club"

Graphite Pencil was used on the highest portion of the handles on the two forks and down the center of the spoon handle, taking advantage of graphite's natural reflective qualities to pull this area forward.

Carbon Pencil was used for all the deep shadow areas and even most of the mid-tones, pushing them back. Carbon does not produce a shine...therefor the eye is not confused by "shiny" silverware and a "shiny background".

"The Fork and Spoon Club"...Carbon and Graphite

"The Fork and Spoon Club"...Carbon and Graphite
"The Fork and Spoon Club"...Carbon and Graphite

What is it that makes these three pencils so different from each other?

Carbon, charcoal, and graphite each have their individual characteristics...It's knowing what these characteristics are, when to use them, and how

to make them work together on paper that makes the difference.

The Graphite Pencil...Why DOES it shine? When used to render delicate textures, it is barely noticeable, but as we go darker for the shadowed areas...there it is looking back at us. No mater how we change our technique, the inability to create deep, rich, darks that don't reflect back at us remains illusive. The culprit is this...the individual particles are "flat", causing the light to reflect off the graphite and back at you. Graphite will always react this way to light...the secret is to use this to your advantage.

The Carbon Pencil...If you have ever lit a wooden match...the soft black sooty powder on the end is carbon. Where the stuff in the pencil comes from I'm not certain! Some say it is a combination of charcoal and graphite, others say that it is simply carbon with a binder. What I do know is this, the carbon pencil is smooth as silk on the paper. And because the powdery carbon particles are soft and irregular...when pushed to it's darkest values, carbon does not reflect light in the same way that graphite does. Thus, there is no shine.

The Charcoal pencil...Back to the wooden match again. Think of Charcoal as the black charred portion of the wooden matchstick. The individual particles found in charcoal pencils are irregular in size and shape...even a little gritty at times. When light strikes these charcoal particles, it bounces back in many different directions. This means that charcoal as with carbon does not have the reflective glare associated with graphite.

GRAPHITE...is like the "Quiet Timid Child".

Now that we understand the basic characteristics of these three pencils, we need to learn how to better handle their individual "personalities".

"THE QUIET TIMID ONE"...Graphite reminds me of the quiet, timid child in the class room. Don't ever interpret this to mean that graphite is not capable of great things!

Graphite is the perfect pencil for the initial layout of your drawing. You can produce the most delicate of textures with graphite, and it does this better than either of the other two pencils. Graphite can be applied with various blenders directly to the paper to achieve subtle value changes...carbon is many times too heavy for depicting subtle changes and charcoal is to coarse.

The reflective qualities of graphite are perfect for rendering smooth shiny subjects such as glass or metal. I also use it for shading in the white of the eye, for depicting smooth fabrics, and to express the radiance in the faces of women and children. SEE: portrait example When an object rendered in graphite is placed next next to carbon or charcoal in a drawing...the graphite portion will always be pushed forward.

Graphite's one major fault is it's shine, making the cast shadows or dark background reflect more light than the subject.

CARBON... is like the "Strong-Willed Child" who has a softer side to his nature.

Now that we understand the basic characteristics of these three pencils, we need to learn how to better handle their individual "personalities".

THE WILLFUL SOFT-NATURED ONE...The Carbon pencil reminds me of the strong willed child who has that hidden softer site to their personality, that with proper direction can be REALLY SWEET!

This pencil will create the darkest of darks yet, unlike charcoal, is velvety smooth to work with. Because the particles are small and irregular, carbon can be used most anywhere you would use graphite...keeping in mind there is no reflexion to bring your subject forward like when using graphite. Carbon can applied directly to the paper using the pencil for the darkest of darks or applied with a blender or brush for more subtle textures.

Carbon is warmer in tone than graphite or charcoal. When combined with cream colored paper, some carbon brands of pencils will produce a pleasant, very deep, almost sepia tone.

Carbon is not a forgiving medium to work with. Unlike graphite, carbon does not come in degrees of tone...It is simply BLACK, with degrees of hardness. When applied directly to the paper using a pencil...you can forget about erasing it! When applied with blenders it isn't much better, unless you are applying it very light. I advise you to have an exact layout drawing, including the shadow shapes. SEE: this layout example.

CHARCOAL...is like the "Strong-Willed Child" that uses coarse expressions.

Now that we understand the basic characteristics of these three pencils, we need to learn how to better handle their individual "personalities".

"THE WILLFUL ONE with a COARSE SIDE TO HIS NATURE"...Charcoal reminds me of the strong-willed child who every once in while says something shocking. Once taught "when and how to express himself", this child has great potential!

Charcoal, as with carbon, is the pencil you want to use for rich, non-reflective darks. But remember this..."Because of the size and shape of the charcoal particles, the tones produced will have more texture than carbon." Consequently, charcoal is best suited for drawing subjects with more textures. Soft charcoal will produce rougher textures than harder charcoal.

I choose to use charcoal for the benefit of this added texture...using it for rough textured cloth, wood, concrete, for portraits when the subject has a rough complexion and for backgrounds when more texture is desired. SEE: example of denim in charcoal.

Charcoal has a tone value similar to graphite...more to the cool side. If you have two darker subjects close to each other with the same depth of color, using charcoal for one and carbon for the other will be enough to separate them.

Charcoal can be applied directly to the paper or applied using a blender or brush...always adding depth with texture. As with carbon, direct pencil application is difficult to remove. A precise initial drawing is suggested.

You Can Draw...You Can Do It!

If you are here, you either draw now or you want to draw. I say be encouraged. Read, study other artist's work, and never, never stop drawing...You Can Do It!

"Miss Mouse" is our neighborhood free spirit...seen here stalking a bird.

"Miss Mouse" is our neighborhood free spirit...seen here stalking a bird.
"Miss Mouse" is our neighborhood free spirit...seen here stalking a bird.

Miss Mouse...

THE STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE

Miss Mouse is our neighborhood cat. We say she is a 'free spirit'. She never lets anyone get too close and only comes around when she thinks there is a meal for her.

On this day I used my telephoto lens and got this wonderful shot of her 'shopping' for her own meal. Crouched down in the grass,stalking a bird...all you could see was her head. She definitely has lunch on her mind.

My goal was to catch the intensity that I saw in her eyes...this was accomplished with many layers of carbon applied with a stump then removing a little and re-applying the carbon. I also added a tad bit of graphite for its reflective qualities. All this and a lot of patience rendered the end results you see here.

"Tutorials" using Carbon, Charcoal, and Graphite

The links listed below are Mini Tutorials. I have tried to be as descriptive as possible...indicating when, how and why I've use carbon, charcoal, or graphite in each drawing. You will also find a list of materials for each tutorial. If you have questions, please contact me...I am happy to help.

The last two links are Tutorials from two very special Guest Artists.

JD Hillberry and Mike Sibley are both Master Pencil Artists...Their reputation resounds throughout the world...their workshops sell out quickly...and their books are found in every serious pencil artist's library.

My Drawing Table

Did you ever wonder what an artist's work area really looks like? Here it is...you can see a few of my drawing materials on the table and even a sneak preview of the new "eye tutorial" I've been working on. CLICK ON THIS LINK...for a complete list of supplies and equipment found in my drawing studio. Learn more about each and where they can be purchased.

My Drawing Table...the "Work Zone" of My Studio!

My Drawing Table...the "Work Zone" of My Studio!
My Drawing Table...the "Work Zone" of My Studio!

When you learn to use these three pencils together...possibilities are endless.

When you learn to use these three pencils together...possibilities are endless.
When you learn to use these three pencils together...possibilities are endless.

Wine Country...shown above

THE STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE

The final reference photo for Wine Country was accomplished out of the desire to draw a common still life arrangement from an uncommon angle.

The wine sat out so long that the bottles began to sweat...creating a wonderful added dimension to the finished drawing.

Each little water droplet was rendered separately...using graphite for the 'raised' droplet and carbon for the shadow around the edges. This isn't hard...you just have to remember to think about the inherent qualities of the medium you are using. Do you want the element to come forward or do you want to push it back? You can do this!

Do you still have questions? Send me an e-mail.

PLEASE CONTACT ME AT THE LINK BELOW.

I check my email daily and promise to reply in a timely fashion.

My "InBox" is always open.

No question is too small. If I don't know the answer I'll find someone who does.

If you enjoyed this lens and would like to see more like it...let me know.

Thanks for stopping by,

Marsha

The comment section is open to everyone. Your opinions count. What did you think of the information you found here...was it helpful? Was it clear and concise? Would you like to know more? Would you recommend this lens to a friend?...tell me what you think.


Your comments will help me improve this lens for others.


MOST RECENT COMMENTS:

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    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 9 years ago

      Wow, your art is amazing. Can't wait to see more tips.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Great Lens! Welcome to the Pencil Artists Group! I enjoyed seeing your art.

    • raswook profile image

      Jeff Wendland 9 years ago from Kalamazoo, MI

      I am thoroughly impressed! A credit to Squidoo with this one.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      what a quality Lens for a first attempt very impressive!

    • TammyDickinson profile image

      TammyDickinson 9 years ago

      Very nice! This is a great lens, full of lots of eye candy and talent. Thanks for sharing!

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 9 years ago

      This lens is one of the best I have ever seen! Your artistic talent shines thru in both your work and design here! 5*'s for sure!

    • utradesports lm profile image

      utradesports lm 9 years ago

      The silverware is absolutely amazing. I can't even do that with prismacolor pencils, let alone with only graphite, and carbon pencils. I can't stop saying absolutely amazing enough! We should be able to rate this a 10*.

    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 9 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      wow you are talented! The fork and spoon club is amazing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Fabulous. Very instructive.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Excellent expression - illuminating. Thank you for posting and all the hours of work that is represented here.

    • snaz lm profile image

      snaz lm 9 years ago

      WOW! stunning work. Absolutely amazing

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      You are truly inspiring! I am in awe of your talent. It comes from your soul

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I love your new site and your work is fantastic. Once in a while I get someone in my workshops that really "gets it" and you were that student. I'm proud to claim you as a former student. Keep up the good work.

      J. D. Hillberry

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      It has been very inspiring to me to discover your site. It Is The Journey That Defines You! I am 61 and it is time to map my journey....what a wakeup call. Thank you, Sheryl Parrott

    • shwetashah profile image

      shwetashah 9 years ago

      great lens and great work

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Thank you so much for a very clear view of the true art that can be accomplished with pencil. The drama is awesome. It gives me hope for my own future in the world of pencil portraiture!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Nice lens! 5 stars given! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Great lens Marsha...love the "quiet timid child" description for graphite.

      You have a talent for sharing as well. Thumbs up! Sheona

    • makingamark profile image

      Katherine Tyrrell 9 years ago from London

      Very nice site Marsha - I especially like the explanations of the characteristics of carbon, charcoal and graphite.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thank you so much! I have been using charcoal for a few months now and was curious about carbon. I read Hillberry's book but your explanations of the differences really helped. I love your work, by the way!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Drama Queen....& that's a compliment, believe me!!!! Easy for the average person to relate to your explanations of thee pencils. Do you teach? YOU SHOULD you have an understanding & can articulate in picture words ANYONE can grasp. You are rare, you are wonderful.....Keep uup the great work! Google me for "bits & Pieces of what I do/have done. Van Wert Ohio.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      hi and hello..i really like this site..it gives me

      more tips and techniques..thank u so much marsha..

      at last i have know the definition of the differences of each pencil...LOL...

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Your drawings are so amazing! i thought that the silverware was a picture:)your site was very helpful to me.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Your work is excellent and your instructions on how to do very clear. Now to find the time to try all that you have wrote about. Love the little blonde girls picture.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thank you so much. This is a wonderful article. I have passed it on to my portrait drawing group because of all the useful information, and how well it is written and presented. This is being bookmarked for further and future reference.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Wow, when I could be as good as you?

    • profile image

      DAZAMAN 8 years ago

      hi great page very useful tips and information

      have been drawing with charcoal for many years but seems you are really gifted

      thanks for sharing

    • melmail44 profile image

      melmail44 8 years ago

      Wow! What can I say? I am blown away by your drawings and the wealth of information here. Thank you! (I am especially impressed with the "Fork and Spoon Club"). I wrote a lens on my opinion on the difference between charcoal and graphite, but it's nothing like this lens...I'm gonna keep this one favorited and come back really often for information and inspiration. Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      hi i am learning how to use charcoals... could you explain more techniques?

      THanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I am impressed by the beautiful drawings using charcoal and graphite, i always use charcoal and a regular pencil to draw, but now I know that there is another kind of pencil i can use. wow, i really loved the forks and spoons, i would love to take my drawing to another level like that one.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Great work -- i'm a newbie to drawing but consider myself to have a good eye. I'm awestruck ! I have a Wolff carbon but what brand name do you use for the charcoal ?

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hi I was inspired by seeing all your work and started to draw again, A bit rusty though since I stopped drawing for more than five years. I learned a lot with your tips about graphite, carbon and charcoal on how to effectively utilize them.

      I am currently using soft, medium and hard charcoal together with my graphite pencil and similarly producing great effects but not as good as yours ^_^

      thanks much

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Wow.

      Your work is amazing. When I grow up, I want to bee able to do that! But for now, I guess I'll just take your tips (and my brand new carbon pencil) and practice!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Your work is beautiful, and I love how you share your knowledge! I have put your link on my blog here http://portraitartwork.wordpress.com/

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 7 years ago

      Fantastic! Blessed!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      amazing work

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      i like your work very well done .your comments on the use of graphite helped me to understand about the shine better.thank you for taking the time to help so many newbe artist .

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      The precise nature of your work is really awesome. I was totally at a loss as to how you were producing such great detail until I saw that you use a magnifying glass when working. It has never occurred to me to try anything that detailed. I have found a great friend in charcoal personally. And as a result as you said, my work tends to be rougher and more syleized (I most likely spelled that wrong). You have inspired me to try picking up a carbon pencil and see where it takes me. Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you so much for posting these. Your tutorials have been extremely helpful for my 13 year-old son.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      the importance of different kind of pencils is really extraordinary,yet same people like me, cannot really put these kind of feelings and descriptions into words.these descriptions really helped. and for that i thank you. I now have a more meaningful relation to my materials and will probably learn to use these skills at a much more sophisticated manner. and for you to post something like this up, is amazing..to new young artists and those familiar. So good job and keep up the great work.

    • profile image

      GCInsinna 7 years ago

      Marsha! Your art is truly extraordinary, and is equaled by your generosity ! You are a very good teacher and have many insights that have been most helpful and, as always, INSPIRING!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I love carbon as well, and was wondering if you have tried the Kimberly 9xxb pencil? Not carbon, in fact I believe it qualifies as graphite, but to me it is like a wonderful cross between the two - deep black without the shininess of graphite.

      I am also in love with Derwent Drawing Pencils. Also like carbon, but a touch smoother and creamier. They also come in color, but I only use chocolate, black, venitian red and terracotta - the old renaissance drawing colors. There is white too for working on darker grounds.

      Just found this blog, can't wait to explore more!

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 7 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Thank you for sharing these. I love them and have your book. I am still developing the skills in it, but I love the effects of the techniques. I am self taught, but your book as been a great aid. I really love the rose. I have tried a stemmed rose held in a hand, but the realism is not near what it is in yours. Thanks for sharing.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      Absolutely amazing drawings! I don't do too many drawings anymore, but when I see what you have done I want to get back to the Pencil, but worry I don't have the patience. Thanks for sharing!

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      Beautifully written and Illustrated. Well done! Lensrolling it to my lens about sketching remarques.

    • MicheleWebber profile image

      MicheleWebber 7 years ago

      Stunning lens, I have lens rolled it to my lens 'learning to draw', and personally found it helpful. I am too obsessed with paint pigments to have learned as much as I should about pencil types. This is a great article for those who draw regularly, and I will certainly send my students here when they need more information about pencils.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Your drawings are really beautiful!! Thank you for the information about the types of pencils. I'm adding your page to my "Pencils" lens. :D

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      sir.

      the "FORK and SPOON CLUB" is depicting ABSOLUTE REALISM!!

      As an observer,I myself have drawn much in GRAPHITE but the transition to carbon or charcoal is a realm unvisited for me.

      kindly tell me how to tame the charcoal and carbon.

      Your drawings made me realize that my potential is utilized 30%

      please be sure to tell about the kind of paper used for these pencils......

      YOU ARE AMAZING!!!

      GOD LIKE CREATIONS!!!!!!!!!

      indeed.

    • Darla Dixon profile image

      Darla Dixon 6 years ago

      Inspiring artwork and lens :)

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I have seen your work a few times,... and I am still amazed and strive to get there myself.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I have been practicing this graphite for a long time when I got here in Quebec I am from Maine.. I know there are certain kinds of pencils ppl use some can be expensive..like Reeves pencils they cost a lot . like 6 dollars for 5. so I use the cheap kind . that are called crafts they are from china cost me 1.25 for 12> 3b,4b,3h,hb,b,h,2h,2b, when I try to save the good pencils. but I have been serious about the concept of light and shade how these pencils are used. but I am using 2 pencils.. 2b and regular 2hb pencil. I am leraning how to use the two for drawing. I am 49

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Absolutely fascinating info, your drawings are amazing. Learnt loads.

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Great lens....I have lensrolled it over to several of my "How to Draw" lenses, and the "110 Faces of China" Project lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love your work, Marsha! Thanks for all the useful info and tips!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thankyou for such a great article,

      I am just beginning and find the rendering of a drawing the most exciting process turning flat lines into 3D objects which posess a life of its own, (the spoon drawing beyond words).

      I need as much help as possible, you explanations simple and inspiring.

      Although I get frustrated this site gave me a enthuasim to try again and watch this site.

      Thankyou

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 6 years ago

      Fantastic! You could mistake the âfork and spoon clubâ for a photograph and I love how you have captured âMiss Mouseâ, I wish that I had your talent!

      I only draw occasionally, usually ink or graphite pencil but Iâm not what you might call a confident artist. I was recently given a set of tinted charcoal pencils but I guess I am not really sure how to use them so they still sit unused in the tin.

    • rcelano lm profile image

      rcelano lm 6 years ago

      This lens is both informative and educational. Thanks and bookmarked.

    • serenity4me lm profile image

      serenity4me lm 5 years ago

      Very informative. Wow!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      your work is awesome, i like the "fork and spoon club" the most, just wonna know if you also use kneaded eraser for carbon

    • efcruzarts profile image

      efcruzarts 5 years ago

      nice lens in pencils infos

    • nelchee profile image

      nelchee 5 years ago

      Thanks for the info on carbon pencil, I got some as a present but had no idea why they were so special :)

    • sue826 lm profile image

      sue826 lm 5 years ago

      You are amazing - I love black and white art so I really can appreciate the detail and realism you are achieving - I'm floored.

    • profile image

      Alma 2 years ago

      Wow, I'm so jealous! I'm going to keep on trying.

      Thank you so much for the informations.

      You are amazing.

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