6 of the Best Subjects for Charcoal Drawing

Quick and a lot less laborious that in most other media, charcoal is at its best when your subjects are placed in high-contrast situations. To practice common charcoal techniques, choose one of these interesting but not too challenging charcoal drawing ideas.

Dog Charcoal Drawing

#PetLove drawing in charcoal by Craftsy member Ray Coffey

1. Pets

Drawing your favorite pets is so much fun! Zoom into your subject to take a good picture with a strong contrast of light and shade. Or, better yet, sketch your cat or dog from while they are asleep.

Charcoal Landscape Drawing

Boardwalk in Bird Sanctuary drawing by Craftsy member cylh

2. Landscapes

In landscapes, find the horizon line first and place all elements under and above it. Beware of the linear perspective to create the illusion of depth and space. Always draw your landscapes starting from the background and move to the foreground. Bright sunny days, moody atmospheric conditions or night streets with electric pools of light are great for charcoal drawing. 

Boots Drawing

Gage drawing by Craftsy member trewlytwisted

3. Still life

While charcoal drawing doesn’t have to be restricted to still life, it’s a good place to start learning and training yourself to see the right scale, proportion, values, and perspective. Don’t settle for accepted subjects — rather, look for an object that excites you to draw. Make an arrangement with one object. Look for the deep shadows that define the volume of your subject and start shading those areas first. 

Charcoal Drawing

The Collection drawing by Craftsy member Micayla Clarkson-Mcneely

4. Plush toys

Plush toys have the soft texture and glass-like eyes to practice different surfaces in one drawing.

Audrey Hepburn Charcoal Drawing

Audrey drawing by Craftsy member Samantha Howell

5. People

Although drawing people requires more skill, it observes the same rules of light and shade, proportion and scale. Look for high-contrast situations to make striking images in black-and-white.

realist charcoal drawing in steps

6. Glossy surfaces  

Ceramic or reflective surfaces can be a fun challenge. Draw with a vine charcoal and blend, creating soft transitions between the tones, and use a kneaded eraser to pull out the soft edge highlights.

In the example above, I worked on a setup with strong shadows. First, I sketched out the largest objects with a vine charcoal stick and define the position of the strongest shadows. 

Once the shapes were in place, I filled in the shadows and blended everything with a blue paper towel (typically sold at hardware stores). Then, I used a workable fixative over the sketch and let it dry.

When it’s dry, I deepened the darks in the background with compressed charcoal stick and defined the edges with a charcoal pencil. Because the first layer was fixed, the pigment wouldn’t come off, making continuous layering easier. I finished the drawing by blending the surfaces and lifting out the highlights of the teapot and spoon.

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