The eternal mystery is why doing something you know you love, that sets you up for the day, is something you don’t do every day.

Anyway, charcoal.


I first used charcoal at school and loved it then, for its messiness, the simplicity of it, its versatility in terms of depth and strength, its powerful look when used to draw, and the speed with which you can bring something to life using it.


I’ve always had a box of charcoal in my artist toolkit but didn’t use it for quite a while, until recently when the love affair was revived during Pauline Agnew’s class, Draw and Paint What You Love {aka DAPWYL}. Pauline gave me new skills with charcoal and since then I’ve been using it frequently.


This is one of those art/life parallels I love so much; charcoal, I realise, reminds me of what life looks like, and how my response to it can change my experience of it.

It’s messy, it can deviate from what you’d planned by its hard-to-control nature, but it can also be brought back on course with patience and persistence; the smudginess actually gives it its character and depth, and is a great reminder that not everything has to be ‘inside the lines’ ie. perfect!


It’s very forgiving as a medium; you can rub it out {mostly}, create all sorts of textures and tones, and I also love how when I’m not sure how to recreate something, for example Frida’s nose here which I found quite hard, I can randomly smudge it a bit and find that that is just what was needed!

charcoal frida sept 13

If you’re not familiar with charcoal, I really recommend giving it a try. It does make a mess but I don’t believe creativity is supposed to be neat and clean. It IS like life, it does get messy, and it’s a big playground for experimenting and seeing how things work in ways that please you.

On a practical note, I have both willow charcoal {thin sticks which make a much lighter, softer mark} and compressed {heavier and to me easier to create more diversity with}, and prefer the compressed. I like to use it on something smooth like Bristol board, although I use it in paintings too sometimes.

Have you used charcoal before? Got any tips for making art with it? Share your wisdom in the comments!