Portrait Demonstration for Charcoal Portrait Workshop 6-7 April

Here is a picture of the portrait demonstration and the list of tools I used for the Charcoal Portrait Workshop last weekend. I am putting this up as a reminder to all the students that attended the workshop. Thanks.


Portrait Demonstration


I use a number of different types of charcoal to achieve a broad range of value and subtle detail. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. It is about knowing what to use, when and where.

Willow Charcoal
For the initial lay in of the masses I would use willow charcoal. It is an economical way of covering the paper. I don’t have any preference because at this stage it is not important.

Nitram Charcoal
I use Nitram for the rendering stages because it can be sharpened to a needle point and comes in a range of tones which is perfect for subtle areas. I would recommend using the H and HB grades as the B is just too soft and falls off the paper.

Compressed Charcoal
The value range of natural charcoal is limited by adding compressed charcoal you can extend the range of the darks. I use Conti (Fusain Charcoal a Paris, HB, B, 2B). The lead in this pencil is thicker so doesn’t break too easily and there is less wax in the binder so mistakes are easier to erase.

Charcoal Portrait Workshop

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Charcoal is a very delicate medium; the dust sits on the fibres of the paper and can be removed by the slightest touch. I use a variety of erasers depending on how sensitive I want to be. Watch out for unsightly smudge marks when erasing an area. Do not use rubber erasers because they don’t absorb the dust and grind the charcoal into the paper.

To sharpen Conte and Nitram charcoal you will need a sanding block. Pencil sanding blocks are a bit too small so it would be better to make your own. More information go to louissmithart.com/paddle. (olive wood serving paddle)

Craft knife
The strongest eraser I use is a craft knife to score the paper revealing the highlight in the eye.

Pencil Eraser
I use a Faber – Castell, Perfection Pencil Eraser. This is a hard eraser that can be sharpened to a point; it’s useful for picking out highlights and sharp edges. I have had problems with most other pencil erasers, as they are too soft and prone to smudging.

Kneadable Eraser
A kneaded eraser can be manipulated into a variety of shapes, a point, a blade, a blotter and potato crisp. Each shape has it’s own uses from picking out detail to softening. I use a Faber – Castle Kneadable Eraser, it is firm and can be easily shaped. There are many inferior kneadable erasers on the market some are too soft and leave an oily residue on the paper attracting dust leaving dirty marks in the light areas of your work.

I use brushes in the darker areas because they remove the minimum of dust from the surface of the paper. A kneadable eraser would be too heavy handed for
this use. Use natural haired water colour brushes because synthetic brushes tend to smudge the work.

I choose paper that covers easily. I prefer cartridge paper, it’s smooth surface gives a quicker even coverage. The thicker charcoal papers are textured, leaving white pits showing through the charcoal. It can take hours of dot picking to get a smooth gradation of tone.