14 Best Vine And Willow Charcoal For Art Students In 2021

An artist starting a charcoal sketch with a few boxes of artist’s charcoal

Have you ever wondered how charcoal artists achieve an almost three-dimensional effect on their drawings? With the right vine and willow charcoal and proper technique, you can achieve the same expertise. 

However, you need to find the best vine and willow charcoal to complement your charcoal pencils and learn how to employ toning, blending, blocking, detailing, and highlighting your charcoal painting.

Our Top Picks

a box of 12 soft Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Sticks
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Best for Highlighting - Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Sticks

• Carefully selected vine charcoal of uniform sizes
• Consistent intensity without hard knots 
• Soft, powdery finish

a box of Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal in assorted lengths
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Best for Art Students - Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal, Assorted Lengths

• Assorted sizes in one box
• Dark tones, smooth finish
• Undergoes an exclusive process before baking

Best for Professional Artists - Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks, 7-9mm

• Carefully selected willow twigs to avoid as much knot
• Baked in a kiln at a consistent temperature
• Intensely dark colors

1. Winsor & Newton Artists' Willow Charcoal, Thick

 a box of thick Winsor & Newton Artists' Willow Charcoal
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 Pros Cons
  • Baked to precision
  • Consistent intensity
  • Excellent as a base for many art projects
  • Easy to use for newbies
  • Intense black color
  • May turn out too powdery

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

Many artists think that the Winsor & Newton Artists' Willow Charcoal has the right thickness for using them as background for various art projects. For newbies, it can seem frustrating at first because it produces too much dust. However, once they get used to it, many claim it’s a good choice for almost every artist. 

Winsor & Newton Artists' Willow Charcoal, Thick review

Why We Think It’s Great

Each Winsor & Newton Artists' Willow Charcoal box contains 12 thick charcoal sticks, ⅜ inch in diameter and 7 ⅜ inches long. Every batch is baked to perfection to have the consistent quality for every package that arrives at the users. However, the sticks are brittle and need extra care to keep them from breaking. There is no need to worry about broken-off bits, though, since you can make it into charcoal powder. 

The willow charcoal makes a velvety but lighter and powdery effect than charcoal pencils. However, because it comes from willow twigs and contains no binders, it also has the characteristics of willow twigs, including the knots. Therefore, we recommend removing the knot because it leaves scratchy and dark lines, making it hard to erase. 

The Winsor & Newton Artists Charcoal line comes in different sizes. It includes assorted, medium, and thin and is available in packs of 3 and 12. The thin sticks are best for adding details and for use in different charcoal drawing techniques. The assorted collection includes a mix of medium, thin, and thick willow sticks and is the best choice for starters. To achieve a tapered point, use a sanding block. You can find sanding blocks in any hardware or art store in your locality. 

Who Should Buy It

The soft, thick willow charcoal is best for artists looking for excellent charcoal to provide their charcoal or Conte painting background. It is easy to erase, blend, and make a good base for white charcoal to lighten some areas of your work. 

2. Pacific Arc Vine Charcoal Sticks, Soft

 Pacific Arc Vine Charcoal Sticks in a pack and sticks out of the box
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 Pros Cons
  • Perfect for novice and professional artists
  • Made from high-quality grapevine sticks
  • Excellent quality 
  • Soft vine charcoal for highlighting still-life paintings
  • Fewer knots compared with willow charcoal
  • Dust from charcoal may cause allergic reactions
  • Breaks easily

 

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

The Pacific Arc is an excellent soft charcoal brand, many artists conceded, and it works well in almost any type of drawing paper. It erases well and layers great textures, giving your drawings more dimension and depth. They are very fragile, though, so they need to be extra careful during storage. 

Pacific Arc Vine Charcoal Sticks, Soft review

Why We Think It’s Great

The pack has 4 thin vine charcoal sticks, each having dimensions of 3/16 inch in diameter and 6 inches long. It is shorter than other charcoal sticks, meaning you have better control over it.

You can use the Pacific Arc Vine Charcoal Sticks as a base and shading, detailing, sketching, and blending on your drawings and charcoal paintings. It is easy to erase, but it also smudges easily. However, it does give a smooth, powdery finish.

For detailing, sharpen the vine charcoal with sandpaper, but be sure to collect the charcoal shavings since it makes good charcoal powder. You can choose from medium and hard vine charcoal, depending on your specific needs.  

Who Should Buy It

The Pacific Arc thin vine charcoal is the best vine charcoal for making details on your drawings. It also makes a good base for adding details with colored charcoal. It also makes a perfect gift to budding artists. 

3. Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Stick, Soft - Best for Highlighting

a box of 12 soft Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Sticks 
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 Pros Cons
  • Carefully selected vine
  • Consistent intensity without hard knots 
  • Soft, powdery finish
  • Uniform size 
  • Dark grey 
  • May cause allergic reactions
  • Slightly harder than soft-grade carbon pencils

 

What Customers Have To Say 

One customer got this as a secret Santa gift for his artist friend, who was happy with the present. Some users like to grade it as medium texture charcoal instead of the soft type it claims. Other artists find it very satisfying, though. 

Why We Think It’s Great

The Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Stick is an excellent choice for students and novice artists who are still learning the intricacies of using charcoal as a medium. Although it is relatively easy to use, charcoal is also tricky as it smudges easily and has a powdery finish. This brand, however, is not as brittle as other soft charcoal brands, making it the best vine charcoal for students and enthusiasts. 

One stick is usually enough for an 18x24-inch piece. However, it is also not black but dark grey, so if you’re looking for a darker option, this is not the best option for you. Once sharpened with sandpaper, it stays sharper for a longer time because it is a bit harder than most soft vine charcoal. 

Each Winsor & Newton Artists' Vine Charcoal box contains 12 soft charcoal sticks, ⅜ inch in diameter and 7 ¼ inches long. 

Who Should Buy It

The Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Stick works better for artists looking for a lighter option for detailing and highlighting their artwork. It also makes a good base because of its dark grey shade. 

4. Pacific Arc Large Willow Charcoal Sticks

a pack of Pacific Arc Large Willow Charcoal Sticks beside 5 soft-grade charcoal sticks of varying sizes
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 Pros Cons
  • High-quality willow charcoal
  • Baked to consistent quality
  • Can be used for highlighting and detailing
  • Easy to grip size
  • Smokey and light finish
  • Some packs have more knots
  • Dust may cause allergic reactions

 

What Customers Have To Say 

Many artists believe that Pacific Arc Large Willow Charcoal Sticks are great for shading and glides smoothly. They are also cheaper than most charcoal brands and works just as well. Many users also believe that this is the best willow charcoal for young artists and students as they are effortless to erase and blend smoothly. 

Why We Think It’s Great

The Pacific Arc Large Willow Charcoal Sticks do not have a uniform size (around ½ to ⅝ inch in diameter) and may contain knots that will leave a darker tone on the paper. Each pack includes five pieces of charcoal, measuring 6 inches. 

We suggest you cut off the knot to avoid any issues with the quality of your work. Don’t worry about tiny bits of charcoal. You can always use it for making homemade powdered charcoal for adding tonal values to your drawings. 

This charcoal is very affordable as one is enough to make a large charcoal artwork. With its intense black color, you can add lovely detailing to your projects. You may also try the 1x6-inch jumbo charcoal for even larger areas. 

Who Should Buy It

If you’re an art student who wants quality but cheap charcoal for their artwork, we suggest you get the Pacific Arc Large Willow Charcoal Sticks. 

5. Grumbacher Vine Charcoal, Soft

 a box of soft-grade Grumbacher Vine Charcoal
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 Pros Cons
  • Smokey and wispy effect
  • Intense dark grey finish
  • Hand-selected vines for consistent quality
  • No knotty charcoal sticks
  • Outside coating to protect the inside
  • Very brittle and dusty

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

Many artists think that Grumbacher carries the best vine charcoal for professional artists. They wish that the charcoal is available in local stores since it usually gets broken during transit, given its very brittle makeup.  

Why We Think It’s Great

The Grumbacher Vine Charcoal is excellent vine charcoal with a coating on the outside that’s supposed to help the charcoal less brittle. Unlike other charcoal brands, it does not smudge easily, thanks to the protective layer. However, it can be troublesome and may come in the way unless you sand it off on the working end. 

These charcoal are thin, approximately ¼ inch in diameter, and are 7 inches long. They may differ slightly in diameter because they are from naturally sourced grapevines. Each stick was handpicked and then baked in a controlled-temperature kiln to achieve consistent quality. 

Some of it may also come slightly bent because of the baking process, but it does not affect the quality of the charcoal.

Who Should Buy It

We recommend the Grumbacher Vine Charcoal for every student and professional artist. 

6. Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal Assorted Lengths - Best for Art Students

a box of Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal in assorted lengths
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 Pros Cons
  • Varying sizes
  • Dark tones
  • Smooth finish
  • Undergoes an exclusive process before baking
  • Produced by a family-owned business
  • Some pieces have a coarse and grainy finish
  • Pricey

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

One artist bought this set and claimed that it's the only set any artist would need. It’s the perfect set with varying sizes and shorter than most charcoal sticks. 

An art student got this set as a requirement for their class. He was delighted with the excellent quality and the sizes. 

Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal Assorted Lengths review

Why We Think It’s Great

The short sticks of the Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal are great for almost any artist. They range from 3mm - 12mm and about  3 ½ inches long each. However, even if the charcoal sticks are of varying sizes, don’t expect that each size is well-presented. For us, it just seems an excellent way to market the odd sizes into one pack. 

The charcoal in the set has a rich black hue and glides smoothly without any issues. Since they are shorter, you don’t have to contend with knots and uneven colors. 

The willow twigs also come from a sustainably sound willow farm from a family-owned business for over a hundred years. The family has perfected its processes over the years and produces high-quality charcoal every time. 

You can also try the scene painter’s assorted set that consists of 12 full-length charcoal sticks of different sizes, ranging from 7mm to 12mm. 

Who Should Buy It

The Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal in assorted lengths is the best willow charcoal for artists who want their supplies to be multitasker. 

7. Winsor & Newton Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks, Assorted

 a box of Winsor & Newton Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks in assorted sizes 
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 Pros Cons
  • Baked to precision
  • Consistent intensity
  • Shorter lengths, varying sizes 
  • Easy to use for newbies
  • Intense black color
  • Charcoal dust may cause allergic reactions  

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

According to some artists who have tried it, the Winsor & Newton Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks is an excellent set for laying the background before working on your actual drawing or painting. It adds depth to their charcoal, colored charcoal, and Conte drawings. Another artist proudly announced that she has been using this brand for the last 10 years and has no plans of shifting to a different brand. 

Why We Think It’s Great

The set comes in packs of twelve consisting of the thin, medium, and large charcoal sticks, each about 4 ½ inches long. Though this pack is a way to salvage miscuts and damages during the process as they are shorter than the usual marketable length, the quality remains the same. 

Winsor and Newton assure that you get a quality pack every time by putting more value on company resources. They combined science and art to create the best art products, extending to all their items, starting from the first watercolor they made in 1835.

 As a product with a scientific approach to art, the Winsor & Newton Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks is every artist’s dream.

Who Should Buy It

The Winsor & Newton Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks is the best willow charcoal for professional artists and art students. Every artist should have it among their drawing materials. 

Unlike compressed charcoal, where you have more control over it on drawing paper, charcoal is messier. The velvety black finish of these charcoal sticks makes a high-quality effect on your charcoal painting. 

8. MyLifeUNIT Vine Charcoal Sticks

charcoal sticks leaning against its cardboard holder
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 Pros Cons
  • High-quality vine charcoal
  • Dark, intense color
  • Can be used for toning, blending, blocking, etc.
  • Soft but firm charcoal sticks
  • Portable packaging
  • Needs rinsing before first use 

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

The artists love the MyLifeUNIT Vine Charcoal Sticks because of the reusable tube for keeping your charcoal sticks and traveling with them. They also got several sticks per size that range from 7-9mm. The finish is powdery and leaves a velvety finish that’s easy to blend and highlight. 

Why We Think It’s Great

The MyLifeUNIT Vine Charcoal Sticks is excellent charcoal that you can use to paint over as a base for your charcoal and other similar media. It is very dark and makes a fantastic tonal effect when finishing your charcoal drawings.

The cardboard tube measures 6 ⅛ inches long and 2 ¼ inches in diameter. The charcoal sticks themselves range from 7-9mm and 5 ¼ inches long. As an assorted pack, there are enough sticks for each size. 

These vine charcoal sticks result from rigorous and dedicated work to produce high-quality products that leave a smooth and velvety finish that you can draw over, erase, and blend easily. We love the vivid colors and texture on almost any drawing paper and the dimensions of your otherwise flat drawings.  

Who Should Buy It

The MyLifeUNIT Vine Charcoal Sticks is the best vine charcoal for traveling artists because the hard cardboard tube protects the charcoal inside. You can also reuse the cardboard tube for other art supplies after using up the contents.

9. Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks, 7-9mm - Best for Professional Artists

Looneng willow charcoal with its cardboard tube packaging
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 Pros Cons
  • Carefully selected willow twigs to avoid as much knot
  • Baked in a kiln at a consistent temperature 
  • Intensely dark colors
  • Perfect for laying the foundation of any charcoal drawing
  • 25 sticks in a reusable hard cardboard tube
  • Dusty may cause irritations 

 

 

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

These charcoal sticks are very durable and don’t break easily, according to many artists. Even professional artists love it and claim that it’s one of the best willow charcoal they have tried. 

One word of caution from a hapless artist, though: open it with care, away from your face to avoid a smothering cloud of charcoal dust when you open it. 

 Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks, 7-9mm review

Why We Think It’s Great

Although the Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal sticks are not machined, they maintain a certain degree of uniformity in terms of quality. It doesn’t have too many knots on the twigs, as you can typically observe on other brands. This way, you get a more even finish without watching out for knots that may affect the quality of your drawing. Knots are less forgiving, may cause damage to your paper, and are difficult to erase. 

We love it for its smooth gliding and the effortless blending of charcoal. You can easily use it in mixed media artworks, serving as a background for an acrylic painting and giving it a different look. Professional artists who have tried it agree that these charcoal sticks are at par with more expensive brands. 

Each hard cardboard tube contains 25 pieces of charcoal sticks measuring 7-9mm in diameter and 5 ½ inches long. Expect to have 2-3 representative sticks for each size included in the tube.

Who Should Buy It

Every artist who has tried the Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks recommends this product, and we are one with them because of its excellent quality. Use a white pencil to create a lovely highlight on your drawings. 

10. Pacific Arc Artist Vine Charcoal, Hard

a box of hard-grade Pacific Arc Artist vine charcoal sticks and the actual sticks lined up beside the box
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 Pros Cons
  • 12 pieces thin, hard-grade for toning and detailing 
  • High-quality willow charcoal
  • Baked to consistent quality
  • Can be used for highlighting and detailing
  • Smoky finish
  • Dusty 
  • It might be too hard on paper

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

Artists who have tried the Pacific Arc hard-grade vine charcoal recommend this brand to their fellow artists because it is economical and runs smoother than most hard-grade charcoal. They are also very sturdy and are easy to use, with their size resembling a regular pencil. 

Why We Think It’s Great

Of the types of charcoal, hard charcoal leaves a lighter, less smudgy finish on paper compared with soft and medium charcoal. Graphite and compressed charcoal pencils are more extensive in their grades (9B being the softest and 9H being the hardest), with 21 grades total, while on charcoal sticks such as the Pacific Arc brand, you only have to contend with 4. 

Unlike carbon pencils, charcoal pencils do not create a glare on your drawing, no matter how you angle it to the light. Instead, it leaves a velvety, soft finish that most artists love, as though you used charcoal powder on it. On the other hand, hard charcoal pencils give clean sharper lines, significantly when sharpened to make better eyebrows, hair, etc.  

Hard charcoal is also harder to erase than soft charcoal, so we recommend you wait until the detailing of your drawings where you have more control of your work. Get an excellent kneadable eraser so you can add details better. Because they are comparatively more rigid than the soft charcoal, it also stays tapered longer after sharpening it with a utility knife or sanding block. 

Who Should Buy It

Any professional artist who loves adding sharp and thinner detailing to their drawings. 

11. Royal & Langnickel Charcoal Drawing Art Set

 an open storage tin for Royal & Langnickel Charcoal Drawing Art Set
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 Pros Cons
  • Tin for easier storage and travel
  • Complete set for sketching and figure drawing
  • Mixed grade of charcoal pencils and sticks
  • Ideal for beginner and professional artists
  • Affordable 
  • Brittle
  • Some items are not the best quality

 

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

For someone who loves to draw as a hobby, artists agree that this art set is an excellent starter kit. Another amateur artist is happy because he can choose charcoal pencils, compressed charcoal sticks, and charcoal sticks. It also allows him to study these charcoal art sets without spending much for another day. 

Royal & Langnickel Charcoal Drawing Art Set

Why We Think It’s Great

Several reasons we love about the Royal & Langnickel Charcoal Drawing Art Set include the tin storage can, the assortment of charcoal products in the set, and the low price of the products in malls and stores. 

It has three charcoal pencils in soft, medium, and hard, 4 vine charcoal sticks, 4 compressed charcoal sticks in soft, hard, and two medium-grade charcoal pieces. It also does a lot of work, including smudging effects, blending, erasing, and other similar techniques you can use to use charcoal as a medium.

The tin can is thin and has just the right size (7 ½ x 4 ½ x ½ inch for packing in an artist’s bag when traveling or just finding a quiet place for inspiration. 

Who Should Buy It

This set is an excellent starter charcoal pencil kit for a beginner artist, though the manufacturers recommend it for professional artists. 

12. MyArTool Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks

a set of thin willow charcoal sticks and its companion cardboard tube
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 Pros Cons
  • High-quality vine charcoal
  • Dark, wispy finish
  • Can be used for toning, blending, blocking, etc
  • Assorted charcoal sticks 
  • Portable packaging
  • Dusty 

 

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

One artist admits he fell in love with the cardboard tube and bought it out of a whim. It turned out to be an excellent product, touting the My ArTool Artist Willow Charcoal sticks as his favorite art supply now. 

On the other hand, a newbie artist found the set to her liking, and instead of giving it away as she previously planned, she kept it for her use. 

MyArTool Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks review

Why We Think It’s Great

The soft-grade willow charcoal in this set comes in 3 different sizes of 7-9 mm, each size well-represented in this tube. They resemble vine charcoal in appearance because you can seldom see a knot on the 5 ½-inch charcoal sticks. 

They are dark and highly blendable and make a good base for your mixed media and charcoal paintings. Each charcoal stick was handpicked before putting them into a kiln to bake it until it achieved the charcoal grade required. 

Of the 4 grades, the hard takes the shortest time to make, while the extra soft takes the longest. 

Who Should Buy It

Artists who love variety in their supplies will love this charcoal set because it contains 3 different willow charcoal sticks. With these types of charcoal, you can easily create highlights with a few strokes of the kneaded eraser. 

13. Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks, 4-7mm 

a cardboard tube of Looneng willow charcoal sticks
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 Pros Cons
  • Best for drawing and sketches
  • Good base for charcoal and mixed media paintings
  • Intensely dark colors
  • Excellent detailing for figure and still life drawings
  • 25 sticks in a reusable hard cardboard tube
  • Dusty
  • May be too small for newbie artist’s preference

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

Artists may differ in their reviews about the Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal sticks, but they agree on excellent quality. They also love the smooth application and the cardboard tube packaging you may reuse for other art supplies. 

Compared with other products, these are less brittle since artists who have tried ordering these charcoal sticks on online stores find only 1-3 broken but usable sticks. 

Why We Think It’s Great

The charcoal sticks are thin at 4-5mm in diameter and 5 ½ inches long, but surprisingly, they hold their own during the delivery process. It is normal to get a few broken sticks. 

As we have emphasized in previous sections, you can still use the broken sticks to make powdered charcoal. To use powdered charcoal, you can apply it with a brush or a paper stump to add tonal value and darker tones to your drawing. 

We also love the thick and hard cardboard tube that measures 2 ¼ inches in diameter and 6 inches tall. After some cleaning, you can use this tube for various art supplies or collect small charcoal fragments for later use. 

These charcoal sticks also work best with making rough sketches before you start your charcoal painting. We suggest you get thick or jumbo charcoal sticks to use as a background for your mixed media and charcoal paintings and use these thinner ones to create highlights. You may want to use varying thicknesses of drawing charcoal among your drawing tools. 

You can also achieve a sharp point for these sticks with a sanding block. Be careful with sharpening and cleaning up your paper, though. Sometimes too much dust may irritate your nose and lungs.  

Who Should Buy 

We strongly suggest that every artist should get the Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal sticks for final detailing and enhancing the tonal value on their charcoal drawing. 

14. Grumbacher Vine Charcoal, Extra Soft

a box of extra soft-grade Grumbacher Vine Charcoal
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 Pros Cons
  • Smokey and wispy effect
  • Intense dark grey finish
  • Hand-selected vines for consistent quality
  • No knotty charcoal sticks
  • Outside coating to protect the inside 
  • More brittle than soft-grade charcoal
  • Dusty 

 

 

What Customers Have To Say 

Artists are delighted that Gumbacher finally produced extra-soft grade willow charcoal for making a base for their charcoal, Conte, and mixed media paintings. Art students and professional artists think it is the best charcoal because of its quality, price, and smoky finish. 

Why We Think It’s Great

Because they stayed in the kiln for longer to achieve the extra-soft grade, these charcoal sticks are also the most brittle in the Gumbacher Vine charcoal sticks. However, they also make better charcoal powder than general pencil charcoal powder since they are darker than the other charcoal grades. 

The sticks are thin, measuring ¼ inch in diameter and 6 inches long, and resembles a regular charcoal pencil in size. You can use it to add small details to your drawing for more detailed work. However, some sticks may be slightly larger in diameter, but that doesn’t affect quality. 

Who Should Buy It

For newbie artists, we strongly urge you to get the Gumbacher vine charcoal sticks. They are straightforward to apply, but newbies should proceed with caution. It may be easy to use, but it takes much learning before you’re confident enough to work independently. 

Best Vine and Willow Charcoal Buying Guide

  • Type of Charcoal

We have three charcoal varieties: vine, willow, and compressed. Each has its pros and cons that best suit particular needs or preferences. 

Willow and vine charcoal have a comparable effect, but willow charcoal comes from willow branches while vine charcoal comes from grapevines. 

Unlike charcoal pencils with a definite shape because of the processing, willow or vine charcoal is a natural product baked to a specific hardness. Their effect is lighter, powdery, and smudgy than regular charcoal and graphite pencils because it does not have a binding agent.   

On the other hand, compressed charcoal comes in various forms, either as wood or woodless charcoal pencils or square sticks made from charcoal powder and binders. 

  • Hardness 

The length of baking of the willow and vine charcoal determines its hardness and the sections used for making these media. 

Willow and vine charcoal come in grades known as extra soft, soft, medium, and hard. From these types of charcoal, the hard-grade stick retains a fine point longer for detail work. 

  • Quality

Before buying willow or vine charcoal, you must understand that it does not have the consistent quality you may expect from a graphite pencil. Some parts will be knotty and hard to erase with a kneaded eraser and other forms of erasers.

Vine and Willow Charcoal FAQ

1. What is the difference between willow charcoal and compressed charcoal? 

Willow charcoal is simply the product of a unique baking process that produces the charcoal for art use. On the other hand, compressed charcoal requires binders, making it more stable and harder. 

Derwent charcoal pencils are an example of compressed charcoal. You can also find other compressed charcoal in rectangular and round styles. 

2. What is the difference between Vine and willow charcoal? 

Willow charcoal is a type of drawing charcoal made from burnt willow twigs and comes in different sizes. Some twigs may contain knots that affect the quality of the drawing if you’re not careful when using them. The knotted part makes darker marks and is more challenging to erase than the twig part.

Willow also has a darker shade than vine charcoal and has a more powdery finish. It is easier to erase, and you can achieve different shades by controlling the pressure you put on your medium. 

Compared to the willow charcoal, vine charcoal is lighter but harder in texture. It comes from burning the mature vines of grapes. Because of this, it has a more uniform size and does not have knots like the willow charcoal. You can shape the ends of the charcoal sticks with better detailing. Depending on the brand, you may need to sharpen it periodically using a sharpening block or sandpaper to maintain the quality of your project. 

Both the willow and vine charcoal come in extra soft, soft, medium, and hard grades and thin, medium, and thick sizes. They also make dust that may cause allergic reactions in some artists. Some brands even carry jumbo sizes best used for priming large areas for charcoal or Conte painting. 

3. How do you make willow charcoal? 

It is easy to make willow or vine charcoal without spending much. It is best to use the twigs from a willow tree that’s one to two years old. You can also use pre-sawn oak, maps, and other hardwood lumber. However, using pre-sawn wood for making an artist's charcoal involves a lot of warping instead of using twigs. Different types of materials also result in various grades of the artist's charcoal. 

Things You’ll Need

  • Willow twigs
  • Sharp knife
  • Makeshift kiln
  • Thermal gun

Directions

  1. Cut the twigs into 6-8 inch sections. Remove the bark and knots on the twigs using a sharp knife. If using pre-sawn lumber, use ½ x ½-inch sticks, then cut it to 6-8 inches.
  2. Make a makeshift kiln from a paint tin gallon. Make 3-5 holes on the cover of the tin gallon to relieve pressure during the burning process. 
  3. Put the sticks into the makeshift kiln, then close the lid tightly. 
  4. Put the kiln into the fire for 15-20, maintaining it between 450oF and 700oF. 
  5. Once the time is up, let the kiln cool off before opening it. 
  6. If the charcoal did not achieve the charcoal quality, heat it for another 5-10 minutes. 

4. How do you sharpen willow charcoal?

To sharpen your willow charcoal, you need a sanding block or sandpaper. Use 300-grit sandpaper or finer. 

  1. Slowly rub 1-2 inches of your willow or vine charcoal on the sandpaper or sanding block, allowing it to taper smoothly to maintain the shape of the charcoal without breaking off easily. 
  2. Move to finer sandpaper once you achieve the taper you want to smoothen the charcoal.

5. What is willow charcoal used for?

Willow (and vine) charcoal works excellent when adding details to your charcoal drawings, especially if you are still learning the basics of this medium. It is more forgiving than other media because it is easier to erase, blend, and draw again without causing any damage to your paper. 

You can draw sharp lines with the end of the willow charcoal and add a base or define your drawing by using the side of the charcoal. Add more pressure for darker tones and less stress for the opposite effect. 

Conclusion

Have you decided what you want now? If not, we recommend these charcoals below based on the three-point criteria we highlighted in the buying guide - type, hardness, and quality. 

We choose the Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal Sticks for the best soft vine charcoal for highlighting. They are carefully selected to Wey do not have lots of hard knots and leaves a smooth powdery finish to your artwork. 

The Speedball PH Coate Artist Willow Charcoal, Assorted Lengths is the best for art students. Aside from the more manageable length, the 30-piece box includes willow charcoal of different sizes that went through an exclusive process before baking to achieve the best possible quality. 

Lastly, we vote for the Looneng Artist Willow Charcoal Sticks, 7-9mm, as the best quality for professional artists. The carefully selected willow twigs don’t disappoint since they have fewer knots. These twigs went through consistent temperature and specific time to achieve the grade you need, giving you an intensely dark color that professional artists love.

For highlighting and adding details to your charcoal drawings, don’t forget the magic of a white pencil. Using tinted charcoal is another trick you should try. Keep your charcoal masterpieces in excellent condition by adding fixatives to your drawings.

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