Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pencil Review: Faber-Castell PITT Charcoal Pencil

I'm continuing to explore the world of pencils, and recently I decided to try my first charcoal pencil.  Artists' charcoal is available in three main varieties: vine (basically just burned wood), powdered, and compressed (powdered charcoal that has been mixed with a binder so that it can be formed into sticks).  Charcoal pencils are compressed charcoal in the form of a pencil, which makes the charcoal less messy to work with.  Faber-Castell PITT charcoal pencils don't come in traditional pencil grades (HB, B, etc.), but in hard, medium, soft, and extra-soft.  Mine's a soft.

From the outside, the Faber-Castell PITT charcoal pencil looks like just another pencil.  It's round, which could be a concern if you're prone to letting things roll off your desk.  However, even before I sharpened it, I could tell that the core appeared to be thicker than that of a traditional graphite pencil and it was noticeably black - nothing like the shiny grey of graphite.  I read online that it is best to sharpen charcoal pencils with a knife, because using a pencil sharpener can apparently get messy, but as I didn't have a suitable knife handy, I decided to use my pencil sharpener anyway, and it ended up sharpening well.

Artists love charcoal because it can create deep blacks and great shading.  But it can also be a challenge to work with because it smudges easily and can be messy when it gets on your hands.  Because of this, I used a drawing pad for my sketch rather than the notebook I usually use.  And I also didn't include a written review, because these are definitely not writing pencils.

I read that it's good to start by using a hard graphite pencil to lay out the basic shapes of your drawing, because this will be easier to erase and correct.  This sounded like a good idea, so I used my 4H Faber-Castell Castell 9000 pencil for that.  Then I started to fill in my outline with the charcoal pencil.  For my first attempt, I thought a simple shape would be best, so I chose a small round vase to sketch, which would allow me to practice some shading without getting too complicated.  If you would like to try sketching with a charcoal pencil yourself, this article goes through the basic steps and this article gets into a bit more detail (and the sample drawing is amazing).  The second article used a paper stump to blend and soften the charcoal; I don't own one of those, but I wish I did, because it created a really lovely effect.

If you're like me, though, you may prefer to just figure things out as you go along.  While I am very much an amateur, I am happy with how my quick drawing turned out.  Since I'm used to graphite pencils, I was surprised by how dark and black the charcoal was.  If you tend to be frustrated that your pencils aren't dark enough, then you may want to give graphite a try.  I especially like how my shading turned out; I think I was able to get a greater variation in dark to light tones more easily than I could with a pencil.  And my sketch didn't have that shiny look that graphite does.  But all of that said, I usually work in journals, which means that easily-smudged graphite is not going to be ideal, unless I want all of my pages to turn into smudgy messes (or if I used spray fixatives to keep the charcoal in place).

Overall, I'm happy with my first experiments with charcoal pencils.  If you haven't tried them before, you should give them a try.  To me, charcoal sounds like something only a serious artist should own, but this charcoal pencil was simple to use, even for a complete amateur and beginner like me.  Although I'll probably be sticking with graphite pencils most of the time, I loved the deep black tones and shading of the charcoal, and I'm sure I'll do some more experimenting with it in the future.

Have you ever used charcoal pencils?


  1. My favorite is the Cretacolor Nero pencil (extra soft). It acts and feels more like a graphite pencil, but you can still get a full range of darks for shading. It's not nearly as messy as the Pitt.

    1. Thanks for that recommendation! Those pencils sound great, and I think a combination of charcoal and graphite pencils would be just about perfect for me.

  2. I like charcoal pencils, but they're really prone to breaking in the core - I've had one that sharpened down to a nub without ever really being usable :/

    For a similar colour and texture, I prefer Conté Pierre Noire.

    1. Thanks for letting me know about the breaking issue! I'll keep that in mind and try to treat mine gently from now on.

  3. I used to just work in oil painting, but recently discovered charcoal as well and fell in LOVE! I do sharpen my pencils with a knife and found that my charcoal kept breaking in the core as well. I switched over to wrapped charcoal, which has a string you pull down a bit and then you can tear off the extra paper. This has solved the breaking problem completely! I bought some at Michael's and Dick Blick! I also use vine charcoal to put down my initial tones and then darken as necessary with a medium or soft charcoal pencil. This seems to work really well.

    You can check out some of my work in charcoal at


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...