What Are The Disadvantages Of Using Charcoal In Art?

When venturing into the world of art, there are several mediums you can choose from. These mediums can help you express your feelings and emotion onto the canvas.

Since creating a work of art has no rules, the medium that you are going to use depends solely on your preference and style. From paint to chalk to computer animation, there is a lot of variety to choose from. However, let us focus on one medium that is one of the first tools that was used to create a beautiful piece of artwork – Charcoal.

The pronounced and dramatic markings etched in cave paintings used by our ancestors are believed to be made with charcoal from sticks that were burned making it one of the tools first used to create art through cave paintings dating back to 28,000 years ago.

What Advantages Makes Professional Artists Use Charcoal

Charcoal was used to create rough sketches as a guide and to prepare the canvas for painting. People have cultivated this medium from burnt wood to an easier to use and manipulate charcoal. Charcoal is a dry art tool made from finely grounded organic materials that are bonded by either wax or gum.

There is also some charcoal that gets rid of the oxygen inside to avoid using binders. These charcoals are famously known for their versatile properties making them one of the commonly used media by professional artists. From creating shadows and adding depths to a painting or a sketch, charcoal is a famous media used from generation to generation.

Before we dive deeper into the disadvantages of using charcoal as an artist, let us sum up the benefits of drawing with charcoal.

  • It is very versatile
  • You can draw intense black lines yet stil easily erase if needed
  • Charcoal can make shadows look very realistic

There are multiple reasons why the use of charcoal has been a staple medium in the art industry, like how it leaves marks perfect for sketches, its ability to produce light or intensely black lines yet is still easily removed, and how it can be applied to almost every surface ranging from smooth to very coarse texture canvas.

But like any other media of art, there are always a disadvantage and an advantage when using charcoal. Explore the know-how when to use and not to use charcoal when making your art pieces.

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The Disadvantages Of Charcoal In Art

Using charcoal has its disadvantages. Without a fixative, charcoal artworks are susceptible to smudging, which is one of the reasons why artists only use charcoal as a preliminary tool.

There is also a tendency to ”dust-off” when using charcoal. This does not cause any problem when scribbling on cave walls where there is not much air-movement, but this can cause an issue when you want to display your artwork in your home.

When artists use charcoal, it is usually painted or drawn-over by another medium or has to have a fixative applied to steal and stabilize the drawing. Some say it is important to use a fixative to preserve the charcoal art and some argue that this can lose the charcoal particles if not applied correctly.

Nonetheless, it is up to the artist whether they want to use a fixative over their art or not but if they do. It is extremely important to read the container labels and get the right type of fixative for the artwork to avoid ruining the artwork altogether. There are also precautions and safety measures the artist should follow and remember to make sure that the process will be successful.

This gives us the following three disadvantages to using charcoal:

  • Prone to smudging
  • Hard to draw on canvas texture
  • Tendency to dust-off

Why Use Charcoal Despite The Drawbacks Instead Of Other Drawing Mediums

Charcoal is one of the first discovered mediums for art-making. From the preliminary drawing on the cave walls to the quick sketches on canvas made from charcoal, there is a reason why there are no other artistic media that lasted along the years like how charcoal did.

Using charcoal for drawing is not as limited as using graphite pencils. Charcoal has more spontaneity when creating art than any other type of art medium. When an artist is using charcoal, its characteristics allow the artist to express their emotion because of easy it is to quickly scribble or sketch.

Many artists prefer their speed and ability they can get when using charcoal. Its ability to make bold and dark lines down to creating soft and subtle shading on the sketches can help the artist express their emotions quickly without having to switch to another medium so artists can get a greater range of tone when using charcoal.

Ease Of Creating A Vast Variety Of Different Shades And Tone

This medium is also easier to work with on paper because of its ability to be malleable and flexible. It is more powdery than the rest of the art mediums. Because of these qualities, artists are allowed to create their desired texture, shading, and tone easily.

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With the skilled hand, charcoal could help capture both emotion and detail by producing both different ranges of shade and tone. It is easier to manipulate because it does not adhere to any of the crease and groove surfaces of the canvas.

Charcoal can provide a way to be able to sketch and draw while being able to deliver good quality, different ranges of shades and tone, and capture subtlety.

The joy of using charcoal when producing art depends on the artist. The malleability and flexibility of charcoal can be one reason why an artist prefers using it and can be a reason why another stays away from it. Its nature helps artists create beautiful pieces of art that can last for a long time.

What Type of Charcoal Is Best To Use In Artwork?

Due to its versatile nature and how easy it is to use, charcoal is a famously known medium of art used by tons of artists all around the world. This medium can be used in a dramatic and expressive art style or in a more detailed approach best suited for a more naturalistic style.

This can either be a stand-alone independent artistic medium genre or can be used under oil or acrylic paintings and serves as a supporting medium. But the more you get into charcoal art, the more you would want to explore the different types of charcoal available and determine how it differs from one another.

There are three common types of charcoal:

  • Pencil
  • Willow and vine
  • Compressed and powdered charcoal

Each of them has different distinguishing qualities that you can use for different parts of your art.

Charcoal Pencils

The most common type is charcoal pencils. This consists of compressed charcoal that is encased in a jacket of wood making it easier to create thinner lines.

You can sharpen charcoal pencils but is suggested to use a knife or blade when sharpening and avoid regular sharpeners. This is the fastest drawing medium that you can use that can help you create strong illustrations in no time.

These pencils help stop you from getting too fussy and obsessing over small tiny details and lets you focus on the details that really matter the most.

Pencils are affordable but you will go through them quite quickly so it is better to purchase more than a single pencil.

Willow And Vine

Willow and vine charcoals are both long and thin sticks of charcoal that both are results from being burned in a kiln without air. The only difference is willow charcoal is made from willow sticks and the vine is made from grape vines.

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They have removable properties by dusting and erasing them that is the reason why artists used them for preliminary sketching. However, it is less suitable for making detailed illustrations.

These are very brittle and powdery since there is no binder used. Since there is no binding agent, this can easily be smoothed out and erased. It is easier to blend the charcoal using a wide variety of tools to produce a different range of tonal values and beautiful textures.

Compressed Charcoals

Compressed charcoals or known as charcoal sticks are formed from powdered charcoal, thus the name.

It is slightly harder than the willow or vine charcoals and will help you achieve more stronger and intense dark tones and controlled lines.

The ratio of the binder differs from the power to binder which results in a range from hard to soft charcoals. Because there is the binder in compressed charcoal, it can stick better to the paper than the regular willow or vine charcoal making it harder to smoothen and remove.

So, you do not have to worry about any smudging and it helps you make a soft progression of tone with this type of charcoal.

Charcoal Pencils Or Baton?

Charcoal pencils are a great type of charcoal since you can easily avoid the mess from handling charcoal. However, it does not allow as much freedom of expression as much as stick charcoal would.

This is where nitram charcoal comes in. Nitram charcoal can provide the artist with the versatility of using a willow, vine, and pencil charcoal without the added frustration of having to deal with the mess on your hands.

Pencils need to be sharpened in order to maintain the sharpness and create small delicate details on your art piece but this may be frustrating to do when you have to sharpen it every time.

Pencils are not good for large drawings since it requires frequent sharpening and a pencil may not last as long as you want it to with the constant sharpening. The advantage of using a baton is that it can be grated down into a finer powder that can be used for a larger illustration application.

For fine and tiny detailed artworks, a charcoal pencil can work fine and is a great addition to your artist box. Baton will work geat for larger and more fluid illustrations. 

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