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?

5 comments:

  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.

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    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.

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  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.

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    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.

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  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 https://artadventures2016.wordpress.com

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