Charcoal is our most ancient drawing medium. It is a black carbon residue created by burning wood or bone to remove the water and other component materials without enough oxygen to burn away all of the carbon.
Cave paintings made using charcoal and other materials have been dated as early as 30,000 years BC 1. A beautiful charcoal drawing of a mammoth from Rouffignac at Lascaux in France is shown below. These pictures would have been made using charred sticks taken from a fire.
The most famous painter of the Italian Renaissance was Raphael. He did most of his preparation drawing in charcoal. Here is an example of one of his charcoal drawings:
If you want to make your own charcoal for drawing watch this great video below. It is easy to do as long as you have a charcoal grill or fireplace or place in your yard to make a fire.
The charcoal I use in my tutorial is made from willow saplings.
Here is an amazing blog about where the finest willow charcoal is made. It is fascinating.
Charcoal is a wonderful medium because it is soft and responds to the pressure and direction of your hand. It is a very expressive drawing material and it is great for “doodling” around.