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?