Types of Charcoal Painting and their Techniques

Types of Charcoal Painting and their Techniques

- in Home Decoration

Charcoal is usually produced by burning substances mostly wood in the absence of oxygen. So technically speaking, charcoal is a burnt material so actually nothing could be extracted out of it. But we are forgetting that it was and still is used abundantly in various fields from locomotives to beauty.

Charcoal painting dates back to 28,000 years ago, that time it was used for cave painting. Since in today’s generation it is quite trendy to revive the old fashion, charcoal painting has taken over the world of creativity.

The great thing about working with charcoal is that it is really inexpensive and so we can try different things and get onboard with the type that suits our preference.

Let’s take a look below to know more about charcoal painting.

  • Types of Charcoal Painting

           There are 3 major types of Charcoal

  1. Powdered form
  2. Compressed form
  3. Vine form

Powdered Form

 As the name suggests the charcoal in the most basic form, powdered. This form of charcoal painting is ideal when toning of large area is required as it gives a softer look. Toning helps the artist to work from a neutral phase. They can darken the area where emphasis is required and a lighter tone can be created by erasing. It is always easier to create a full range value when you have the created the base. It is typically applied by brushing it onto the surface, it can also be poured on the surface and spread.The downside to it is that it can look messy if not handled cautiously.

Compressed Form

When we bind the powdered charcoal with gum or wax we get compressed form of charcoal. Compressed charcoal often comes in pencil form which makes it less messy to play with. It cannot be smudged easily. So it is hard to blend in. It is hard to erase it’s impression once it is on the paper. Compressed charcoal painting is best suited for fine lines, intricate detailing and for giving a richer look to the painting.

TIP: If you are using a charcoal stick and want no mess, wrap an aluminium foil around it and use it.

Vine Form

The charcoal sticks that are made from grape vine or willow branches fall under this category. Unlike the compressed form, it does not require a binding agent. Therefore they are easily erasable making them perfect for sketching before the final canvas is painted. Vine charcoal is very light and gives soft, powdery lines. It creates a perfect base for your drawing.

➢     Making of Charcoal Paint

Since there are many types of charcoal painting here we are going to discuss about the basic way of making a bunch of charcoal sticks that can be used for painting.

Our initial instinct is to blend the charcoal with our fingers but it is advised to not be done that way. The following is the way to make a good charcoal that can be used for painting.

  • Twigs from any kind of tree can be used but the twigs from new plants should be avoided because they usually produce soft powder which is not ideal for drawing.
  • Cut the twigs to desired length (usually 5-7 inches). Peel off the bark and cut the forked joints. If the twigs are cut from a fresh plant it should be allowed to dry completely (usually for a week) before the next process begins.
  • Now we need to wrap all the sticks in tight aluminium foil so that there is no passage for air to pass through it.be very careful with this step because if it gets in contact with air, chances are it will turn into ash than charcoal. So for safety purposes we can wrap a second layer of aluminium around it but don’t overdo it. Initially start with a bunch of 4-5 sticks and work your way up when you are confident with your outcome.
  • Place the package in the coal fireplace or a barbeque pit. It may take several hours for the coal to carbonize and cool down. Do not open the package until it can be handled comfortably. We need to cautious as too much heat will melt the foil and insufficient heat will produce bands. Be willing to experiment number of times before you perfect it.

STEP 1:  Lay a fine layer of powdered charcoal and spread it evenly onto the surface in order to create a midtone. The more gently you can do this- it works for your advantage.

TIP: Use a paper towel to get a smooth finish. A smooth finish gives a rich look to your shadows and highlights.

STEP 2: Take a charcoal pencil (hold it at the end for better comfort and fluidity of your pace) and start drawing the basic shapes.

STEP 3: Now using a kneaded eraser we can start erasing the area to get a lighter look, only to a small degree.

STEP 4: Use kneaded eraser and the charcoal painting as in when required and create your picture.


The following is an alternate way also another way of creating a charcoal painting.

STEP 1: Lay out the basic shapes of your drawing with the help of a charcoal. Preferably use a vine charcoal as it can be erased easily.

STEP 2: Start toning with a powdered charcoal to give the midtone of the picture for better shadow and highlights.

STEP 3: Use a compressed charcoal for fine details and intricate patterns.


The reason why charcoal painting is best and can work wonders is because when we combine all the three forms: the powdered, the compressed and the vine, we have the greatest control over our imagination that we want to put on paper.

We can approach this in a number of ways. For beginners, the could start with vine to create a base, tone with powder and amplify with compressed sticks.

But as we get comfortable using the charcoal we can rearrange the steps to create a great charcoal painting. It is not always necessary to use all the types of charcoal, sometimes a whole painting can be created out of just one type of charcoal. We combine them only to get different results and to learn in the process.

The best way to learn about the differences is only by experimenting. So go ahead, see what works for you and enjoy!