Drawing with Charcoal Pencils / by Angela Bandurka

I love drawing. Always have! And drawing with charcoal pencils on paper is especially fun. (When I draw on canvas, I usually use pastel pencils, but that's another discussion :)

Recently, while at ARTspot, an art supply store in Edmonds, Washington, I noticed two very similar charcoal pencils made by the same supplier: Faber-Castell. They had the same names on them but different coloured grips: one was tan, and said "PITT CHARCOAL" and the other was black and said the same thing on it. Both had Soft, Medium, and Hard options. What's the difference?

After some experimentation and lots of research (it wasn't clear to me on F-C's website) I discovered the difference:

The Black one is uncompressed charcoal - it's natural charcoal. On the back of the pencil in small text you'll see the word: "Zeichenkohle."

The Tan one is compressed charcoal. On the back in small print is the word: "Reisskohle."

"Apples to Apples" Charcoal Pencil comparison, (c) Angela Bandurka

On the right here is a visual of my apple-to-apple comparison on toned pastel paper.

My PRO/CON list for each:

Zeichenkohle/Natural Charcoal Pencil:

  • PRO: Smooth charcoal with no barbs in my test
  • PRO: Erases well
  • CON: Lead breaks extremely easily (you can see this in the photo)

Reisskohle/Compressed Charcoal Pencil:

  • PRO: Responds well to pressure, allowing for easy shifts in value
  • PRO: More stable, less fragile than the natural charcoal
  • PRO: Erases well
  • CON: Has some barbs every so often. Be careful! I've heard General's Compressed Charcoal has no barbs, but I haven't compared that here.

Here is a piece that I created, using a photo I had taken of my puppy, Oliver, as reference,drawing with the Compressed Charcoal pencils, General's White Charcoal for highlights, a short-haired brush for blending as I work, and toned pastel paper:

"Oliver" Charcoal on paper, (c) Angela Bandurka, 2014

"Oliver" Charcoal on paper, (c) Angela Bandurka, 2014