By Jessica Lee Sanders

Inspired by Linda’s Wehrli’s blog interview, with charcoal artist, Emily Nelligan, I wanted to share with our readers about both of our favorite mediums, Charcoal.

Although messy and unpredictable for the beginning student, with practice over time, charcoal becomes a versatile medium, that is able to produce lines with either a soft or strong quality to approach texture, tone, and shading with ease.

The dramatic, rich markings left by charcoal appear in the earliest primitive cave painting of early humans, which are believed to have been drawn with the charcoal created from burnt sticks. The word “charcoal” means to char or turn wood into coal.

Currently, three kinds of charcoals are used in art: powered charcoal, compressed charcoal and vine charcoal.

Vine Charcoal is created by burning sticks of wood into thin or thick vines of soft, medium, or hard consistencies.

Compressed Charcoal is charcoal powder in a gum binder compressed into either round or square sticks of charcoal pencils. The amount of binder determines the hardness of the stick.

Powdered Charcoal is charcoal powder left in its natural state, used to tone a drawing surface.

Throughout the Renaissance, most artists used charcoal to prepare their panel paintings or fresco murals, and many used charcoal in their drawing studies. However, some masters used charcoal alone or with chalks and ink to create stunning masterpieces.

Michelangelo’s “Study of a Man Shouting” illustrates, that in a skilled hand, charcoal could capture both emotion and detail, and produce subtly in both shade and tone.

Charcoal’s use continued beyond the Renaissance, sweeping through the Romantic period and into the modern 20th century. In the Romantic period, French sculptor, Antoine-Louis Barye used charcoal to create “Dead Young Elephant.” His depiction of the fallen beast is another example of the depth and emotion possible in charcoal drawings. With a variety of dark and light strokes, and his shading and detail, the elephant’s image subtly fades between stark realism and gentle, sorrowful abstraction.

As one of the world’s oldest artistic media, charcoal has contributed a means to sketch and draw with increased attention to tone, quality, and subtly. Because of its flexible ability, artists continue to employ this medium to capture both gestures and emotions with a visceral mixture of the soft and the dark.

Interested in learning to draw with this ancient medium? Check out Pastimes’ Drawing with Charcoal 101 Course! The curriculum presents the basics of sketching and creating illustrations that contain incredible depth and tone. Sensitivity in the hand is developed as charcoal requires a lighter touch than graphite. A variety of subject matter is covered for both personal enjoyment and portfolio development. Linda shares valuable tips and tricks that will get you up and running on this medium. The Charcoal 101 Kit for the course can be purchased directly online.

Did you enjoy this interview? If so, please share it with others.
Were you inspired? Please share your inspiration in the comment section below.

For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Art Curriculum and founder/instructor Linda Wehrli, visit the website or Facebook page.

References: Linda Wehrli,,

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