Charcoal is a popular drawing medium for artists across the world, and has been used to create art for centuries! Charcoal is a great medium to help hone your drawing skills, and you will see it used often in introductory art classes for this very reason. Some artists will also use charcoal to underdraw their paintings, so it can be used beyond just sketching or creating finished pieces! If you’re new to drawing or just getting started with charcoal, you may be wondering...what’s the difference between willow charcoal and compressed charcoal? We’ve broken it down for you below and also let you know what to use each type for!
Willow charcoal is manufactured by burning sections of willow branches to a precise degree of hardness, resulting in a softer charcoal that is great for sketching. Willow charcoals don’t contain any binding agents, so they will erase completely, making them a top choice for drawing out a composition sketch on canvas prior to applying paint or other mediums.
Due to their softness, willow charcoal is not as suitable for creating fine detail or final atworks.
Compressed charcoal is made from powdered charcoal and a binding agent (usually gum or wax binder). You can find compressed charcoal in a range of hardness levels, which is determined by the ratio of charcoal to binding agent. Due to the added binding agent, compressed charcoals will typically be harder than willow charcoal options, and will therefore hold their shape better when being used or sharpened. This allows compressed charcoal to be used for making fine lines to add detail and texture to your charcoal drawings.
Unlike willow charcoal, compressed charcoal is difficult to completely erase, and it may discolour any wet media applied on top of it due to bleeding. However, it is a stronger charcoal than willow and you will often find it produces darker lines too, as well as holding a sharpened point for longer while you sketch detail into your pieces.
Eckersley’s can supply you with a wide range of charcoal, so you can try both and see what you prefer - or switch between them depending on your application! If you’re not quite ready to jump into charcoal sticks, we have charcoal pencils available as well which will give you additional control for fine detail work. Once you’ve finished your charcoal artwork, you may also want to finish it off with a fixative spray to prevent smudging.
Whatever your chosen medium, we hope you enjoy creating your next beautiful artwork. Don’t forget to share your pieces with us by tagging us on Instagram and Facebook. Happy creating!