The Monochrome Lover

All about pencil and charcoal sketching

Tag: art

Because everyone can draw

One really must experience how light it feels, to sit with their sketchpad and charcoal for an hour. For the people, out there, who’ve never tried that, this post is for you.

Most of us are self-taught artists, which means our technique and our ideas would differ from one another. Nevertheless, the basics never change and we have some help from Erika, giving us some tricks to create winning sketches.

Create awesome charcoal portraits, no matter how difficult it is!

Always start with enhance the reference image on Photoshop using techniques cropping, so that we have a format and a skeleton for our drawing. Then, print it to the exact size we want our sketch to be.  For example, if our sketch is going to be an 11” x 14” or larger drawing size, print it on a ledger size paper of 14” x 17”.

‘The grid-method’ on drawing paper

Once printed, divide the print-out and the drawing paper in squares of 4 inches, called the ‘Grid-method‘, so the image comes out as a grid. Further divide the face in 2 inch squares, especially around the eyes and mouth. The grid allows us to transfer the portrait proportions as accurately as possible.

Sample of the grid-method used in drawing objects

With the grid in place on the drawing paper, start outlining the head, neck, shoulders, and then the face with a graphite pencil or a black crayon. Further the grid-method helps you to a great extent while drawing the features of the face.


The trick is to start with the top and go downwards of the sketch, so you start with the eyes and end with the mouth/ lips .

Finally, use the charcoal pencil to give the bold strokes to complete the sketch and to do the highlights, always use a mechanical eraser.

Charcoal is a very messy medium, so we really have to be careful as a beginner.

From white paper to wall frames: A chat with Erika Farkas

Have you ever wondered making a career in canvas and colours? While I was wondering about the scope for art as a career, I got to interact with Erika Farkas, a Romania based artist, specialized in charcoal and portrait and here is what I learnt…

Erika Farkas, a Romania based artist

Q: How do you think the society has accepted art as profession in this age? Has it progressed since the past?

Erika: Art as a profession has certainly progressed. Back in the renaissance, artists only worked on commissions from their patrons, they rarely created works for their own enjoyment.  The acceptance of women in the artist profession has also come a long way. However, now there are too many talented artists out there, and if want to make it as an artist, you have to be original and stand out from the crowd.

Q: How did you prepare yourself to choose art as a career?

Basically, I started drawing. I was always pretty good at it. The more I drew, the better I became at it and I developed my own style, or so I would like to think.

Q: Was it not difficult for you to pursue a career in art without a formal training? How did you handle it?

My belief is that you don’t need a formal training if you are able to learn and experiment on your own. But nowadays, there is so much free information on the internet, free instructions from accomplished artists from where you can learn the basics without paying an arm and a leg for a fine art degree.

Takeaway from the chat: “My advice for the beginners is the Nike slogan “Just do it!”. Keep at it and I promise that the more you practice, the better you get and the greater will your satisfaction be!”



What my box of happiness has…

The person who said ‘money can’t buy happiness’ has neither ordered a box of pizza nor a tin of charcoal pencils. Both being my favorite, I would recommend the latter for a happy mind without putting on weight.  It was a couple of years ago, that creative hands delivered this ‘box of happiness’ at my office.  And ever since, the charcoals have never let me down.

The Daler- Rowney Charcoal Tin

For beginners like us, who love sketching but is afraid to use charcoal as a medium, we have Daler -Rowney (DR) charcoal Tin for help. A set of Daler-Rowney charcoal Tin consists of an assortment of charcoal pencils and the other necessary stationary. The tin contains Charcoal Pencils x 3, Graphite Pencils x 2, Woodless Pencil x 1, Kneaded Eraser x 1, Paper Blending Sticks x 2, helping us to create a perfect piece from sketching until shading. The charcoal sticks, also known as the ‘Vine Charcoal’ are labelled as ‘soft’ and ‘medium’ for the convenience of the user. The pencils and the charcoal sticks glide through the paper very smoothly.

The pencils and Vine charcoal in the DR Tin

We have already learnt more about pencils from the previous post- “Excuse me, do you have a pencil?” And so, we quickly look into the other elements in the tin. The most impressive element present in the DR charcoal Tin is the kneaded eraser. This can be manipulated into any shape as required to erase and can also be used as a smudging tool. As for the paper blending sticks, they are majorly used to create shadow effects and to blend the charcoal with the paper.

Bottom line:  the DR Tin is an awesome ‘must have’ sketching kit for every beginner who has been inspired by Charcoals.

Please note that the pencils in such artist kits should be sharpened only using a sand paper or blade


Excuse me, do you have a pencil?

No! we are not talking about the normal, graphite pencils that we use to shade our multiple-choice answer sheets, but about the artist-pencils that are used for sketching. Many of us might be shocked to know that there are more than 35 types of pencils available to choose from, depending on the purpose- sketching or shading.

How to choose the right pencil?

My artist- quality drawing pencils- Beginner’s collection

It may be hard to notice, but yes! all drawing pencils don ‘t feel the same when you start working with them. The artist-quality pencils usually range from 9H to 9B with ‘H’ being the hardest and the lightest and ‘B’- the softest and the darkest.

The complete spectrum of artist-pencils
9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, HB, F, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B

Choosing the right pencil is always a challenge. Depending on what we draw and the detail that would be added to the work, determines the pencil one should be choosing. The ‘H’ series are mostly used for sketching and outlining as they are easy to erase and absolutely forgiving. The pencils in the ’B’ part of the spectrum is used for ‘inking’ and shading.

And we have more….

I love the high and low effect they produce on the sheet-My charcoal pencil tin from Daler Rowney

We all love to have some dark and lights added to our sketches. Which is why we have charcoal pencils at our rescue.  Just like the drawing pencils, charcoal comes in different types and forms too.

Personally, charcoal pencils are my favorite ones due to the untouchable pitch-black effect they produce on the sheet. Agreed! these burnt wings dirty our white sheet within the first minute of sketching, but their versatile nature that makes them blend in with the drawing sheet would make fall in love again and again!

Now you see where we get the 50 shades of grey from?


What you see, you draw

Ever wondered why you tend to scribble or draw random shapes during your class hours / serious meetings, yet you would be able to participate in the discussion? Is that a sign of us being an abnormal individual? No! That’s the ‘real you’ getting inspired.

Happiness is doodling during meetings

Sketching is the primary way our brain captures, explores, and communicates an idea. Sometimes, it can also be a powerful problem-solving tool. The idea could be abstract, but gradually you will find yourself decoding the intention of your sketches and come up with an answer. But guess what? All this happens inside our brain within matter of seconds!

What’s happening in our head?

We keep listening to or looking at the elements in our environment and the ‘doodling’ moment occurs! We get inspired in a jiffy and our brain processes it into an idea and your hands tend to draw a shape, it could even be a line that you are striking over and over! At this point, we tend to think about the concepts that are impractical, which is known as ‘visual thinking.‘ This helps us come up with better alternatives during the discussion. In other words, sketching is just a reaction, like biting nails, You see, you think and get sparked and react.

We are not an artist, yet we sketch

Each one of us have an artist in us, but we seldom realize that. We have sketching, integrated in our daily life without our own knowledge. Just think! Don’t you remember drawing a road map for someone who asked you for the route to a certain destination? Weren’t you satisfied after ‘drawing’ the map for them? That’s the emotion a professional artist feels after his/ her last stroke on the paper.

Keep calm and keep sketching

So take time, give yourself some freedom and keep sketching!

Believe it or not, I can actually draw

Whoever knew that the familiar, crusty, crumbly, black remains of your campfire is one of the oldest art mediums, that every artist would go mad about? Charcoal is a traditional drawing medium that has been preferred by various famous artists like Robert Longo, Vincent van Gogh and William Kentridge.

This form of dry art medium is mostly preferred because of its ability to produce rich tone and contrast on paper. Unlike other form of mediums, charcoal gets easily blended with the paper, helping the artist to produce various effects on the work. That said and done, this is the only art medium that dirties the hands, bringing out the inner-child of the artist.

What a burnt stick could produce on a paper

Just like every other child, I too loved getting my hands dirty. I chose to try this art only to ‘get-messy’. But eventually, I fell in love with the magic that a burnt stick had produced on the paper!

Charcoal sketching may look complicated externally, but technically, it is a very easy and interesting form of art. Reason being that, it easily spreads on the paper/ surface, we can make free and big strokes and most importantly you can erase and influence your imagination with smudging techniques.

My first attempt at charcoal sketching was done when I turned 18 and had just finished my high school. I had no image in my mind and I did not have a professional charcoal pencil set then. I had just began trying the art form and hence considered expanding my medium apart from Charcoal- I used a black crayon to sketch the outline and I was surprised by its versatile nature and the outcome on the paper.

My first attempt at charcoal sketching

So if you are looking for a recreation and love to express yourself visually, may be charcoal is the type of art you should be attempting, for its so easy to begin with and simply because it is such a forgiving medium.

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