Making A Landscape Charcoal Drawing: Every Artist's Starter Guide
A charcoal sketch of a landscape drawn at location - by Getty Museum
Landscape charcoal drawings are one of the most popular types of artwork, especially for those just starting. This blog post will walk you through every step in creating a charcoal landscape drawing - what materials you need, how to go about sketching your design, styles and types, as well as how to protect it to make stunning wall art.
To create a charcoal landscape sketch, you need to make light sketches first. Tone the paper with powdered charcoal, then add details. Create highlights by erasing some parts of the drawing and then adding your final details to define the landscape better. Lastly, protect your finished drawing with a fixative.
How to Draw Landscape with Charcoal Pencil
Landscape charcoal drawing - Image by The Virtual Instructor
What You'll Need
- Charcoal sketch pad
- Charcoal pencil
- Vine charcoal
- Compressed charcoal
- White charcoal
- Charcoal powder
- Makeup brush
- Drafting tape
- Blending stumps
- Eraser pencil
- Kneaded eraser
1. Plan your composition well
To start your charcoal landscape drawing, place paper on an easel or table that is high enough so you can work with ease, then tape it. Make a light sketch using your charcoal pencils to plan out your charcoal landscape sketch.
No need to be too detail-oriented at this point. Just get a general idea of the horizon line and focal points. You can use a photo or a memory for inspiration.
Canvas is not the best option for newbies, but you can research its possibility as you progress. For starters, try archival heavyweight papers like Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook for relevant results.
2. Tone the paper with powdered charcoal
Using a makeup brush, spread a thin layer of powdered charcoal over the sketch to add value to your charcoal landscape. Consider the source of light to know where to add more powdered or willow charcoal. The farther the objects are from the light source, the darker it goes.
3. Add initial details to your landscape drawing
Add details to your charcoal landscape. Your goal is not perfection but rather to create an interesting composition with depth and drama. Unlike a portrait where you need to be accurate, charcoal landscapes let you advance your creative side.
4. Create highlights
Use a kneaded eraser, eraser pencil, or white charcoal to add highlights, lighter values, and contrast to your charcoal landscape.
5. Add final details
After creating your highlights, contrast, and fixing your charcoal landscape sketch values, add the final details to define your landscape better. Sharpen your charcoal pencils well to add fine details. Brands like Derwent charcoal pencil are an excellent choice because of their quality.
6. Seal your charcoal drawings with fixative
As you may have observed, charcoal paintings have a dusty finish. Fixative protects the artwork and makes it more vibrant. Add two or more layers of the fixative, working on parallel directions between layers.
Here is a detailed video detailing every step on charcoal landscape drawing:
Charcoal Landscape Drawing Styles
While you're deciding on the best landscape to do, you'll have to decide on your style first. Here are some classes you must explore. Usually, tutorials include only three, but we felt that the surrealistic style is an exciting way to explore your creativity.
If you're already a member of online art classes, don't forget to use their tutorial videos to improve your skills. One particular painter used her website as an experience log for the progress of her art.
A representational landscape of a river - Image by Paul Priestly
Representational landscape art is the opposite of abstract art because it is close to the object or subject it represents. While some representational landscapes are close to realism, some artists also veer toward impressionism and abstraction.
However, artists intend their artwork closest to reality compared to the other styles. Overall, representational landscape art is the easiest for the audience to understand.
An impressionistic drawing of a meadow - Image by 5-Minute Art Lessons
Impressionistic style lies close to representational since the artist depicts the subject as close to reality while giving it a unique take, usually on saturation, contrast, and highlight. Instead of focusing on realism, though, the artist depicts his landscape according to his perception.
A surrealistic landscape - Image by Lineke Lijn
Surrealistic landscapes feature images of sceneries in nature coupled with imagery that comes from the unconscious mind. While they represent a powerful image, they are far from reality, such as you can observe in this example above, featuring a waterfall and a gigantic eye.
The image is always up for the audience to interpret, although the artist has a specific message he wants to convey.
An abstract landscape drawing - Image by Phil Reynolds
As with other abstract drawings, abstract landscape art has no definite image to represent. It usually takes on the landscape as the background and chooses an object in the foreground to be the focal image of the drawing.
The interpretation of this art depends on the understanding of the audience. Understandably, of the styles, it's also the hardest to understand and critique.
Types of Landscapes to Explore
Here are the various types of landscapes that are perfect subjects for your charcoal drawing:
Mountain landscape - Image by Miroslav The Pencil Maestro
Mountain landscapes are among the top three most commonly used subjects for charcoal drawing. They usually feature mountain peaks against a background of more obscure peaks.
Because it is a monochrome painting, develop the contrast and the highlights well. One of the tips for creating breath-taking mountain landscapes is to draw the most detail to the focal image.
Observe how the artist shows details on the pine trees in the foreground, using different heights to depict distance and blurry background to make the focal image stand out. Use a smattering of willow charcoal powder on the background to achieve this effect, but give it enough details.
A flat landscape of a farm - Image by SchaeferArt
Flat landscapes can use a meadow, a wide field, and a ranch because of the vast spaces. The wide spaces should be the focal image of these paintings.
These settings are far more challenging to do than mountain landscapes since the artist should consider the tonal values, highlights, and contrast on the gradient of the field, perspective, and the position of the objects with the horizon.
A seascape of a turbulent sea with ragged rocks - Image by Smoothie77 Drawing & Painting
Seascapes are challenging for novice artists because of the movement of the waves, subtle color changes of the sea, and the light reflection in the water.
To effectively capture the sea, start by applying a light tone of charcoal powder, adjusting values and contrast as you work on your seascape. Draw light sketches on your sketchpad, blend, and add highlights until you get the result you want. Be sure always to factor the light direction to give life to your artwork.
Riverscape against a mountain range and cloudy skies - Image by Fancy's Art
The river and the surrounding scenery are another lovely landscape to use as a subject for your landscape drawings.
If there are trees near the riverbank, you'll do well to capture them in the style you love working best. Things like a protruding rock, floating debris, and the reflection of light in the water are some of the details you'll want to capture.
The artist takes on the front of the river instead of along it. They capitalize on its reflection and things like the trees, foreground shrubbery, to stormy clouds afar, making them the perfect settings captivating landscapes.
A stormy skyscape with old ruins in the foreground - Image by Smoothie77 Drawing & Painting
The sky is a very dynamic subject that you can get as many ideas from while admiring their beauty. For our example, we can see the clouds announcing an impending storm. The ruins in the foreground take a tiny part of the drawing to emphasize the sky.
Observe how the changes in tonal values capture the dynamics of the clouds, how the lighter values stay on the horizon where there is more light and how it darkens subtly as the clouds get farther away. Use your high-quality charcoal pencils like Derwent to the best advantage to add details.
Cityscape in charcoal - Image by Circle Line Art School
The city may be too sterile for other artists to consider, but the hustle and bustle of the city life is the perfect subject. To depict the beauty of the city, choose a perspective you want for your drawing.
In this particular landscape, the artist has little use of charcoal pencils. Instead, he relied more on the paper’s texture and charcoal powder to create that textured effect. Use heavyweight paper like Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.
A hardscape of an old town alley - Image by ArtistsNetwork
Old towns have their charisma that no city can replicate. The old street in our example planked on both sides by old stone houses is the perfect example of how hardscape makes an excellent landscape subject.
A full moon behind the trees - Image by Rajpurohit Painting
Whether you make a realistic or a romantic moonscape drawing like this example, the moon is a captivating subject to draw with charcoal pencils. In this example, this charcoal sketch features trees and the moon on top of the mountain, though the mountain is not visible but implied.
Charcoal Landscape Drawing Common Issues
Here are some common issues you may encounter when working with charcoal landscape drawings:
I cannot distinguish the different levels of ground
Before you draw your landscape, identify your foreground, middle ground, and background. These should have different values and details so you can identify each.
The foreground should be darkest since it is nearest to the viewer and farthest from the light, while the background should have the lightest tone.
My charcoal drawings are too dark
Adjusting values on your drawings is very important so that it does not look too dark. Start with a light dusting of charcoal powder before adding more details as you go. You can add more powder to areas farther than the light source to make it look darker while keeping it light in areas nearest to the light.
My drawings are too washed out
Charcoal dust doesn't settle too long on paper, resulting in a drawing that's too faded. To resolve this issue, apply 2-3 layers of fixative to your projects.
Use high-quality pencils like Derwent Charcoal Pencil and archival paper such as Birn Alpha sketchbook with an excellent texture to keep your charcoal in for a long time.
It doesn’t make sense to spend hours drawing and robbing yourself of the best experience just because you didn’t use quality materials.
I can't find a good fixative for my charcoal landscapes
If you can't find a good fixative for your landscape drawings, do not be tempted to use hairspray for the very reason that it will ruin your sketches in the long run, turning the paper yellow. Keep it in an area with little air movement so you won't experience dusting off your drawings.
Drawing landscapes is a great way to improve your creativity, and if you're just starting, it's relatively easy. It can also be an excellent opportunity for visual exploration as long as you have suitable materials.
That's why we tackle these topics from what tools work best, where to start when creating your design, stylistic considerations while drawing - all of which culminate into gorgeous wall art!
What do you think? Do these charcoal landscape drawing techniques seem creative or too daunting?