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Charcoal is a fun medium that can feel like painting with the rendering techniques of carbon/graphite. But charcoal drawings take time to perfect and have their own range of techniques.
If you’re not sure where to start then check out this huge list of charcoal drawing books. I’ve curated the best titles covering everything from the basics of charcoal to more detailed life drawing resources.
You don’t need much prior art experience but it does help to start with a pencil first. And if you dive into charcoal make sure you can draw every day to see the largest bouts of improvement.
This 180-page guide to charcoal drawing starts with the basics from picking the right supplies to setting up an easel for a self-portrait. Nathan slowly delves into the proper techniques for making marks and rendering properly on the page.
Each chapter builds on the previous one to create a fluid learning experience. Along the way Nathan points out common pitfalls that many artists make, and offers advice on how to avoid them yourself.
At the very end you’ll find a huge gallery of portraits and quick sketches made purely in charcoal. It’s a great way to compare your work and see where you stand in your skills.
Self-portraits are great for practicing technique and this book is a valuable resource to start with.
Drawing with Charcoal For Beginners
Drawing with Charcoal For Beginners is truly a guide for complete beginners. It starts by explaining how charcoal works and how you can use it to craft very basic shapes(spheres, cubes, cylinders, and cones).
From there you’ll learn how to create imaginary objects by working with these fundamental building blocks. Because this is a technical process you should have some prior experience drawing from your imagination.
Each lesson follows a typical step-by-step guide to help you learn & grow with the medium. But this book is one of many in a series so it may not be the perfect solution for beginners.
This can work as a detailed intro to charcoal for beginners, but you do need to have experience with using a pencil first.
If you’re completely new to drawing then take a look at our beginner art books and move onto charcoal later.
Life Drawing in Charcoal
Drawing from life is the fastest way to improve as an artist. But it can also be intimidating if you don’t have much experience.
Life Drawing in Charcoal covers a variety of exercises you can follow to study life drawing through practice. The author Douglas Graves has years of experience teaching art and knows how to reach an audience of any skill level.
In this guide you’ll learn how to see value first and then work around that concept. This is the quickest method which often feels like painting with a stick of charcoal. Through these lessons you’ll learn to see tone quickly and capture it on the page.
You’ll also learn about foreshortening, proportions, and how to create drawings that really look three-dimensional.
Douglas shares over 200 of his own drawings for you to study and mimic. These drawings help to illustrate each exercise and really form the basis of foundational charcoal drawing.
12 Charcoal Techniques
With a book titled 12 Charcoal Techniques it should be obvious what you’re gonna get. But this book goes so much further than just listing twelve artistic tips.
The author & teacher Cindy Wider explains charcoal drawing from the perspective of a struggling artist. She knows how intimidating charcoal can be and her writing style accommodates with a slow pace and a step-by-step procedural process.
She tells you exactly which materials to use, how to setup your board, and how to practice making marks with charcoal. Actually she covers twelve ways to make marks with charcoal! And they’re all covered in great detail with imitable exercises.
This book can be the perfect solution for an absolute beginner. You don’t need any experience with charcoal or any understanding of how charcoal works.
As long as you have some tenacity and a solid workflow you can learn all the basics of charcoal drawing through this book.
Drawing With Charcoal, Chalk, and Sanguine Crayon
One of the best things about this book is its level of detail. The author pays careful attention to every step of the process and he doesn’t rush you through anything.
Drawing With Charcoal, Chalk, and Sanguine Crayon looks at a variety of mediums and how they can all work together. In the book you’ll find a ton of practice projects that you can follow from beginning to end. They’re ordered from easiest to most difficult so you can follow a very natural progression.
Also the drawings in the book aren’t too advanced or overly showy. You can study these examples and likely replicate them on your own without too much effort.
If you’re up for a challenge then this book is a great way to dive into charcoal. It does cover a variety of unique mediums so it’s not a catch-all charcoal book.
However the writing style is aimed towards beginners and it’s a really smooth intro to charcoal.
How To Draw With Charcoal
This is one of the cheapest and newest books in this list. How To Draw With Charcoal offers 140 pages of contents describing the artistic style, techniques, and rendering processes of the medium.
Early chapters go over all the materials and the basics of charcoal drawing. You’ll also get a full overview of the different methods used to draw with charcoal, along with sample exercises for each one.
Later chapters get into more specific exercises for drawing hands, doing a self-portrait, and working with crushed charcoal for shading(including a brush).
Towards the very end you’ll find inspiration and tips from working artists who share their advice for aspiring artists.
This book is not only great as a beginner’s guide, but also as an inspiring intro for new artists. And with a low price point it should be more than affordable on any budget.
Charcoal Drawing by Henry Pitz
Charcoal Drawing by Henry Pitz is a much older book dating back decades. However the lessons are still poignant for modern artists breaking into charcoal for the first time.
In 160 pages you’ll learn about the medium of charcoal and how it compares to drawing. The author Henry Pitz goes into further detail with exercises covering tonal values, different drawing surfaces, and a variety of rendering techniques.
The writing style isn’t the easiest to understand so you may have to re-read passages a couple times. But the exercises are incredible. Henry encourages you to draw objects and items from life to study tonal values and differences between tones.
However this is not a book made for complete novices. You should have some experience with drawing in pencil before picking up charcoal, and these exercises will prove impossible without a little background in graphite.
But even with just a few months of practice you can pick up enough skill to work through these lessons while studying the medium of charcoal.
Drawing for the Beginning Artist
Based on the title you wouldn’t know that this is a charcoal book. Drawing for the Beginning Artist actually teaches drawing from the very beginning using both graphite and charcoal.
It’s one of the newest books in this list and it does an excellent job of covering how to see and copy realistically. The author Gabriel Martin aims to teach you how to see by explaining fundamental ideas like perspective, light/shade, value, contrast, and proportions.
Every chapter includes a few drawing techniques broken down into a step-by-step process. You should pick up this book if you’re a completely new artist who wants to improve quickly.
Drawing from life is the best way to improve as quickly as possible. It won’t happen overnight, but by following the right exercises you will see improvements.
Whether you already know how to draw or whether you’ve never drawn in your life I still recommend Drawing for the Beginning Artist as a primer for diving into art the right way.
Charcoal Drawing by Ken Goldman
This is one of the cheapest charcoal drawing books you can find with a wide variety of content. Charcoal Drawing by Ken Goldman looks into charcoal drawing across many subjects including still lifes, portraits, animals, landscapes and household objects.
Each chapter covers a different topic with different exercises. You’ll start from the absolute beginning with the inner workings of charcoal. This is crucial for a newbie since charcoal doesn’t work like typical graphite pencils.
In the beginning you’ll draw your own value scale, practice perspective, shapes, and learn to clean up mistakes lightly with your eraser. But the chapters quickly advance into more complex topics for drawing animals and scenery around the house.
Even though the book is older it’s certainly not outdated. The resources and exercises are still just as relevant today as they were at the time of publication(1996).
However this is a pretty short book with only 64 pages so it won’t cover everything. If you need a full in-depth guide consider grabbing a lengthier alternative like How To Draw With Charcoal.
Lessons in Classical Drawing
Atelier artists are some of the most skilled artists in the world. They practice their craft incessantly and work to achieve even the slightest level of detail.
Lessons in Classical Drawing teaches the atelier method of life drawing for fine art. The author Juliette Aristides explains how ateliers work and how their lessons are typically structured.
This book is just as much about learning to see as it is about learning to use charcoal. In fact, these lessons can apply to any medium and this is one hell of an introduction for beginners.
If you pick up a copy don’t expect to whip through it. Work at a consistent pace and consider practicing these lessons many times over. This way you’ll have the lessons ingrained into your mind and they’ll become like second nature when you draw from life.
Alternatively if you’re looking for more advanced concepts then you might like the lessons found in How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal. These can apply to any medium, but practicing with self portraits is a great way to up your charcoal game.
Either way this post should have more than enough resources for anyone diving into charcoal. Take another look over this list and snag a copy of anything that catches your eye.