Step by Step Walkthrough of Surrealist Charcoal Drawing

I started this 30×44” charcoal drawing with a loose sketch off the top of my head using vine charcoal. Then I blurred it all over with a standard issue tissue. I’ll do this three or four times. Below is the second pass at the composition, which gets blurred again with a tissue.

Sorry I didn’t get a good shot of this step, but you can see the blending of the charcoal. Again this is done with a regular tissue (avoid lotion tissues as that will add oils to a dry medium. ) This process fills in the paper with charcoal and builds up more of a base that can be erased into with a mechanical eraser or kneaded eraser, to create lights. I use vine charcoal for this part of the drawing because it’s easier to erase and fix mistakes. Compressed charcoal which is found in charcoal pencils, is not as easy to erase, which is why I try to get the composition sorted out first. I will make a pass with the charcoal pencils in the next step. I use 2b or 4b general’s brand for this.

It’s still really rough at this point. I will blur again with tissues to fill in more of the paper. I can work later on revealing more of the paper’s color to indicate the whites and mid-tones.

I use tissues for this because I’m allergic to the usually used chamois cloths you can buy from any art store. I bunch up the dry tissue with a loose but firm grip and just rub back and forth with sweeping motions.

Above, you can see where I erased some areas and spots to sort out the lights, using a kneaded eraser.

Now I’m adding details and only blending with my fingers here and there to create shading. I switched to using HB general’s charcoal pencils, which only adds lighter blacks, but is really good for gradual shading. I like to work all over the image switching from one spot to the next until it builds up. Some people work from one corner to the opposite to avoid accidentally blending with their drawing hand, by leaning on the drawing. I like to jump around, as I was taught, because it adds more energy to the rendering. At least that’s what I like to think.

Above, I continued with the hb charcoal pencils and developed as I went. I started adding some whites with a general’s white charcoal pencil. I don’t know why they call it white charcoal. It seems like some other material but I guess it was just intended to be used with charcoal, so that might be where it gets its name.

The paper is not absolutely white. It’s slightly off-white, sort of creamy colored, so drawing with a white pencil brings more values to the drawing. I’m not sure the brand of the paper, but it might be Canson. This stage takes time because there’s a lot of details. This takes days and days to really nail down. It’s a big drawing, but breaking it into layers of vine charcoal first, helps to fill it in faster. I use a hand crank sharpener that creates longer than usual points so I don’t have to mess around with a sharp blade to get the required length necessary for this work.

I’m also using a mechanical eraser so I can erase some details into the drawing. There’s different brands out there. I’d say buy a few different shapes, sizes, and makes, and see what suits you. I switch around but usually end up with the standard.

This stage above is just more fine-tuning of details. It takes a long time to work the details into this larger image. I spend days doing this, and it can be draining. I take a day off every now and then, but it’s usually every day that I’m working on something. It makes it easy to make progress if I just make sure to get a daily routine of art creation.

This is where I left it for now. There’s still a ton of stuff I’d like to sort out and address but I’m burning out on this image and need a break to refresh the muse. I hope to get back to this soon and go over fine details.