29 Best Charcoal Drawing Ideas Of 2021: Impressive Arts To Try

 a charcoal drawing of a family studying on a table around a lamp

Table of Contents

Charcoal drawing is a type of visual art that has been around for centuries. There are many different techniques and styles to choose from, so it can be challenging to know where to start. 

In this blog post, we’ll showcase some of the best charcoal drawing ideas from these fantastic projects to keep you inspired. Get creative and improve your skills using this medium!

Portraits

Charcoal portraits are an excellent subject for any artist. You can create these portraits worthy of starting a charcoal art collection with just one color.  Choose from different drawing styles, depending on what makes you tick to capture the subjects in different moods or expressions.  

1. Charcoal Sketch Portrait

A portrait of a woman in profile - Image by Jeff Haines

A portrait of a woman in profile - Image by Jeff Haines

If you're interested in learning charcoal portraits, then sketching is the perfect way to start. This technique takes more time than drawing with a graphite pencil but will produce finer detail and subtleties that you can’t achieve with other mediums. 

Your aim for these drawings is to perfect symmetry and make charcoal drawing easy before moving to realist portraits. For starters, use thick drawing paper to sketch so it can withstand erasures. 

2. Self-Portrait

Self-portrait of a woman - Image by Yong Chen

Self-portrait of a woman - Image by Yong Chen

What artist can deny himself of a self-portrait?  They are a great way to improve your drawing with charcoal and practice skills such as shading and blending. You can also work on it without much pressure since it reflects how you see yourself. 

3. Realism Portrait 

Realism portrait of a man - Image by Irwan Art Drawing

Realism portrait of a man - Image by Irwan Art Drawing

Realistic portraits are an art form that captures the emotional, physical features and contours of a person's face. It is a complex technique, but it helps artists perfect their blending skills crucial to success for this particular technique. 

Drawing in scale with grids can help you get the likeness of your reference image and bring it more into focus, so you know how much detail goes on each part of the picture, like hair or skin tone.

4. Hyperrealism Portrait

A hyperrealism portrait of a woman - Gerardo Monroy Art

A hyperrealism portrait of a woman - Gerardo Monroy Art 

For professional artists who have honed their skills for realistic portraits, it's time to take it to the next level with hyperrealism or photorealism. Details like skin pores, freckles, and even wrinkles get highlighted to capture the definition of a person's face, so it doesn't look any different from a photograph. 

It takes an impressive eye for detail and years of persistent practice to achieve this technique, but the effects are astounding. Youtube videos feature talented artists that can show you how to use charcoal as a drawing medium to create hyperrealist art.

Landscapes

Landscapes make lovely studies for charcoal artists without the added burden of details for color gradations and shades required for colored artwork using paint, pastel, or even colored pencils. The secret here is to give as much detail as possible and arrange the individual images in different perspectives, angles, and depth to your drawing.  

5. Silhouette Landscape

A lone wolf howling at the moon in the middle of a pine forest - Image by Hacks360

A lone wolf howling at the moon in the middle of a pine forest - Image by Hacks360

Since the focal image does not provide much detail, the secret to creating dynamic silhouette landscapes is on the work you put on to your foreground, midground, & background scenery, while maintaining unity. 

Play around the height and position on these grounds, considering the perspective of the charcoal painting. Make use of white charcoal and kneaded eraser to add value and highlights to your charcoal drawing.

6. Impressionist Landscape

An impressionist charcoal drawing of a field - Image by Paul O'Neill

An impressionist charcoal drawing of a field - Image by Paul O'Neill

To make a dramatic impressionist landscape, work on the tonal value of your charcoal drawing. One of the most recognizable styles in modern art, blurriness to its objects and figures characterizes impressionist art. 

It reflects spontaneity by capturing movement and creating life-like compositions with broad strokes and fewer details. You can perfect this art technique by watching your favorite artist showing a step-by-step tutorial on charcoal impressionist technique.

7. Surrealist Landscape

A surrealist landscape - Image by Art of Asit

A surrealist landscape - Image by Art of Asit

As opposed to other art styles, surrealist landscape brings into focus man's subconscious, thus creating art out of this world. It also means freedom to express himself without adhering to the artist’s usual art form. 

Fine art enthusiasts love this style because it conveys a powerful message, especially when the subject relates to the future of humanity. 

Complexity and light determine the impact of a surrealist landscape. It's an excellent style to explore to improve your creativity and imagination and practice tonal value drawing. Start with toned paper, then build it up using willow charcoal, charcoal dust, and even colored charcoal.

Still Life Charcoal Drawings

Still-life is everywhere, making it an excellent subject for a budding artist who is still learning the basics of charcoal drawing. 

It allows you to learn how to render shape within a small area by playing with the relationship of the spaces and forms, creating details, and adding value to your charcoal drawings. It also makes for a perfect handmade gift that all art enthusiasts love.

Arrange all the materials in such a way that highlights the planes and edges by moving your light source (if using artificial light) or your setup (if using natural light) so you can create tonal values better when setting up reference objects.

8. Study of Ordinary Things

A charcoal drawing of Adidas sneakers - Image by Janspreet Singh

A charcoal drawing of Adidas sneakers - Image by Janspreet Singh

Talented artists use ordinary things, such as this shoe, as an ideal medium to practice value drawing. The right combination of media like vine charcoal, erasers, white charcoal, and graphite defines the charcoal drawing and creates fine art out of rather mundane things.

9. Still Life Tonal Value Drawing

A still-life study of an earthen jar and fruits - Image by Fine Art Academy

A still-life study of an earthen jar and fruits - Image by Fine Art Academy

See how the play of light accentuates this still life study? When you watch charcoal drawing tutorials that feature talented artists, you can see that they take extra steps to simplify tonal values discussion. It is one of the most critical features of any charcoal drawing. 

With the absence of vibrant colors found in other paintings, the tonal values and the contrast in the charcoal painting force the mind to perceive the colors and appreciate the artwork.        

10. Study of Objects from Nature

A still-life drawing of fruits in a fruit basket - Image by Artist Ankit Jastamiya

A still-life drawing of fruits in a fruit basket - Image by Artist Ankit Jastamiya

The study of objects from nature, like flowers, fruits, leaves, and rocks, is a popular subject in charcoal drawings. Drawing charcoal using real objects or photos as a reference image, you can create art to study their color values and tonal ranges. The key here is to highlight the shadows and the light on the image. 

Step-by-step tonal value tutorial videos teach you to create a tonal grayscale and use it to compare with the shadows cast by your reference objects. Whether you're aiming for real or rugged still life with charcoal, you'll still get the result you want.

Human Figures

The human figure is a fascinating study that charcoal artists should try.  The human body is one of the most difficult to master and requires patience, basically because of the complex emotions and gestures that a person shows in a specific situation. 

There are many ways in which artists can practice.  To make charcoal drawing easy, try sketching a live model or a picture for reference to capture the symmetry of the body and nuances of a particular emotion. 

We don't recommend drawing from imagination for beginners unless you have a very active imagination. Sketch out an outline of your subject with a pencil first but go easy on pressure and use quality drawing paper for best results.

11. Eye Study

A charcoal drawing of an eye - Image by Genelyn Sandaga

A charcoal drawing of an eye - Image by Genelyn Sandaga

Mastering the eye is one way to perfect charcoal pencil drawings. It's also one of the most difficult, but you can do it with patience and hard work. 

The goal is to understand how the eye works to draw a compelling eye that communicates emotion or other ideas, such as depth perception. The play of light in the eyes is essential when drawing a realistic eye. Make use of the kneaded eraser or white charcoal to achieve the best results.

12. Hair Study

A hair study in charcoal - Image by Kirsty Partridge Art

A hair study in charcoal - Image by Kirsty Partridge Art

The hair is another human figure study that needs details and attention when making a portrait study. As one of the most visible parts of a person, it also conveys personality or moods. Long flowing locks might show freedom, while properly groomed hair may show an uptight attitude. 

One way to improve your drawing skills of the hair is by blocking in the shape of the head and then adding hair. Add highlights as you go using a fine-tip eraser or charcoal and graphite pencil, always using lighter strokes, then defining them as you progress in your drawing.

13. Expressive Figure Study

A woman in an expressive pose - Image by Zin Lim

A woman in an expressive pose - Image by Zin Lim

The human body, with its contours and definition, is a perfect subject for charcoal artists. An expressive figure study communicates emotion or other ideas using body language. Extended arms may portray a plea for help, while crossed arms might show defensiveness, etc. Figure studies are another great way to improve your sense of symmetry and balance.

The best way to learn is by doing and drawing from life. If needed, use the grid method to give yourself some structure or use your pencil to reference distance and size. If drawing multiple fingers, draw one person at a time so that their action doesn't get lost in the group.

Animals

Start the animal drawing by observing shapes and values of tone. Make your lines very light for easier erasures. You can always go back into your sketch with more detail after establishing the outline and contours of your subject. 

Also, don't skimp on your drawing paper. Some novice artists don't know the importance of paper for charcoal works, but it makes a huge difference.

14. Study of Pets

A charcoal drawing of a dog and its reference image - Image by Kirsty Partridge Art

A charcoal drawing of a dog and its reference image - Image by Kirsty Partridge Art

Observe your pets during their downtime so you can see their expressions and posture. The best way to do this is to sleep or sit on their haunches for dogs and cats. 

For active fish, getting their outline may be more challenging, but artists thrive for the challenge. The hardest thing to capture is the fur, much like the hair in human studies.

15. Animals in Motion

A jockey riding a galloping horse - Image by MominsArt

A jockey riding a galloping horse - Image by MominsArt

The best way to capture animals in motion is by drawing quickly with a very light touch. However, given the nature of dogs, you cannot capture their posture, behavior, and movement patterns in real-time. 

Your best bet is to capture their motion with a high shutter speed camera or an HD video for better reference. Use high-quality art charcoal, white charcoal, erasers, and drawing paper for such a fine art subject.

16. Birds in Flight

A charcoal painting of black geese in flight - Art Easel & Pencil

A charcoal painting of black geese in flight - Art Easel & Pencil

Birds in flight is another challenging subject to take on for charcoal artists.  Visiting a bird park, wetlands, or other areas frequented by birds during the migration season is an excellent way to study their flight form. 

You may also take screenshots from high-definition videos to capture your reference images when you don't have access to the locations mentioned above. We don't recommend this bird art for beginners' drawing, though, because of its complexity.  

Cartoons Charcoal Drawings

You can also try cartooning using charcoal pencils as a medium. Cartoons give you free rein without the pressure of realism that most charcoal artists encounter. But to create fantastic cartoon charcoal art, you need an impressive imagination, especially if you want to come up with your designs.

17. Caricature

A caricature of Gene Wilder - Image by Proko

A caricature of Gene Wilder - Image by Proko

Caricatures are fun studies of people that any charcoal artist should try. Editorial cartooning, usually featuring caricatures, is a powerful tool to convey timely messages without using words. It is also worthy of trying this technique, given its lucrative use in journalism. 

The best paper for caricature portrait drawing has tooth for the charcoal to adhere better. You may also try charcoal as a wet and dry media to achieve a more dramatic effect. 

18. Manga Art

A manga character in a suit - Image by Art with Lizard

A manga character in a suit - Image by Art with Lizard

Manga art is another lovely idea to explore for charcoal artists. The black and white comics industry is an excellent avenue for charcoal artists to perfect their art and earn.  Use graphite pencil first for the sketch, then use charcoal to highlight and define your charcoal drawing. 

To start with manga art, try a step-by-step tutorial you can find from a website selling painting courses to help you understand this fine art and how tonal value, contrast, and rich darks work in your artwork.

19. Funny Study of People

A funny caricature of a couple on the beach - Image by How to -Easy to do

A funny caricature of a couple on the beach - Image by How to -Easy to do

Funny study of people is an idea best executed using charcoal. A simple and relaxed expression of character, with a bit of detail on the face than the other styles, lets you have fun in your charcoal illustration works while producing the result your patrons love. 

You can also full-face portrait drawing using this style. But although it looks easy, you need to have a level of expertise to get the likeness of your subjects.

Abstract

Abstract art is a form of visual expression that does not represent objects from the world we see. While it does not have a definite shape, many artists create abstract art to reflect how they feel or their recent experiences. 

The issue with abstract art is the audience's ability to understand the artist's intent. However, since you have more freedom with it, you can interpret the artwork based on the emotions it evokes in you.

20.  Abstract Portrait

An abstract portrait in charcoal - Image by Mad Charcoal

An abstract portrait in charcoal - Image by Mad Charcoal

It is a mix of abstract art masking a portrait to create a unique art form. You can make abstract art using charcoal, with the messiness of the smudges adding allure to the portrait. You can use a combination of charcoal and graphite to achieve the best results.

21.  Abstract Drawing

An abstract drawing using charcoal - Image by DhakshnaArts

An abstract drawing using charcoal - Image by DhakshnaArts

An abstract charcoal drawing is best for people who like to add a little bit of messiness and roughness to their work. When creating an abstract illustration, you want to keep things rough around the edges and let your imagination run to get an eclectic but cohesive idea for your pencil drawings. 

Reductive Charcoal Drawing

A reductive charcoal drawing is a technique that departs from traditional pencil drawings. Instead, the artist creates art using an eraser on charcoal-toned paper. The best part of this technique is that the image becomes more refined as you erase pieces away. 

When creating a reductive charcoal drawing, it's best to start with big shapes and then slowly refine your work by taking small sections at a time so that there are no jagged edges or inconsistent lines.

22.  Reductive Still Life

A reductive still-life drawing - Image by Tara Tavonatti Art

A reductive still-life drawing - Image by Tara Tavonatti Art

Reductive drawings are a great way to practice your charcoal technique and create sketchy still-life scenes. Start by lightly covering the surface with carbon powder, then brush away areas you want lighter or darker until you have completed your artwork. 

A good black and white photo for reference is always helpful when working in a reductive style (or even using other mediums).

23.  Spooky Reductive Drawing

Spooky reductive art - Image by Mr. Otter Art Studio

Spooky reductive art - Image by Mr. Otter Art Studio

Spooky drawings are easier to create using the reductive style.  Use a photo of your best friend and then make their face black and even the background dark. 

Next, add some value and highlights with an eraser for a true reductive style, and you will have an artwork that is spooky as well as impressionistic. These charcoal portraits created using reductive style make excellent Halloween decors.

Mixed Media Charcoal Drawing

If you're looking for an idea of how best to create mixed media charcoal drawings, the examples below can be an excellent place to start. The following inspirations show different ways artists have used both traditional and non-traditional materials with their charcoal drawings.

24. Charcoal and White Marker Drawing

An abstract charcoal drawing using a white marker for highlights - Image by Imanu Comics Art Vlog

An abstract charcoal drawing using a white marker for highlights - Image by Imanu Comics Art Vlog

As you can observe in the above example, the stark white lines created by the white marker form an eye-catching balance to the dark charcoal. These lines help present the subject in a way that is not achievable by using just the charcoal or adding values with an eraser or white charcoal.  

25.  Wet Charcoal Drawing

Charcoal portrait of Joaquin Phoenix beside a reference photo - Image by CZ Art

Charcoal portrait of Joaquin Phoenix beside a reference photo - Image by CZ Art

Charcoal is a potentially messy medium that you can use as wet and dry media. Dabbing a damp brush over the charcoal drawing blends the charcoal onto the paper, making it harder to erase. However, its effects are striking. 

Other artists use charcoal powder, compressed charcoal, and other forms of charcoal, then spray water over it to achieve a more dramatic and less powdery finish. Because of the water, the paper you use may show some curling after it dries. Thus, the best paper to use for wet charcoal painting is watercolor paper.

26. Charcoal and Acetone Drawing

Charcoal fanart drawing of Snape and Lily - Image by Jon Arton

Charcoal fanart drawing of Snape and Lily - Image by Jon Arton

Spraying acetone on your charcoal drawing adds a striking effect to it. Since acetone (or alcohol) is more volatile than water, it leaves a splatter effect that water cannot achieve. Do not use a fine mist when spraying. Instead, use a coarser spray setting, letting the acetone drip slowly as you go.

27. Charcoal and Ink Drawing

Portrait of a woman in charcoal and ink - Image by Cromeola

Portrait of a woman in charcoal and ink - Image by Cromeola

Adding color to your charcoal drawing by dripping ink over it is another technique you should try. The striking effect of ink splotches on your charcoal drawing gives it an eerie but interesting look, depending on the mood you want to evoke. 

Other times, it adds vibrancy to your drawings, something you cannot achieve with charcoal alone.

Miscellaneous Techniques

Here are a few other charcoal drawing techniques you can try to practice your skills better. 

28.  3D Charcoal Drawing

An artist frolicking on his 3D charcoal drawing on a cement road - Image by A LY TV

An artist frolicking on his 3D charcoal drawing on a cement road - Image by A LY TV

Three-dimensional drawings are always interesting to look at, especially life-sized ones like this. You can create this artwork with leftover charcoal from burnt wood. 

29.  Colored Charcoal Drawing

A figure drawing using colored charcoal - Image by Mont Marte Art

A figure drawing using colored charcoal - Image by Mont Marte Art

Colored charcoal, also known as tinted charcoal, is a combination of charcoal usually tinted with earth tones to create an effect that you can’t achieve with black charcoal. 

These pencils retain the softness and smudgy effect of charcoal to evenly blend while allowing you more freedom to give dimension and contour, especially when making hyperrealism art.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this blog about the best charcoal drawing ideas and inspire you to make fantastic charcoal art. If you are a newbie interested in learning more, please check out our beginners' guide to charcoal drawing.  

Which drawing technique is your most favorite? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave us a comment below. 

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