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What is the best paper for charcoal drawings?


If you are just about to start drawing with charcoal, you have probably been wondering which is the best type of paper to use. Making this choice can be mind-boggling sometimes!

It actually all depends on what you want to draw, because you should choose a paper depending on the type of textured finish you are intending to achieve. For instance, there are papers that have more tooth on their surface, so you can end having a more textured finish, whereas other papers may have a very soft texture without almost no tooth on their surface, so the finished work is very smooth in the end. To know which one is which one is very easy. Cold pressed is the one that has more tooth so it’s rougher. Rough paper is more rougher than cold. Hot pressed paper is very soft.


Basically, the terms “hot press” and “cold press” refer to the paper’s surface finish or texture. Cold pressed paper has a slightly bumpy, textured surface, however, hot pressed paper has a smooth surface finish. Similarly, hot press paper has almost no tooth, but cold press paper has a more pronounced tooth.  Be aware of the smoother the surface the greater the likelihood of smearing.


Which is best paper for charcoal and graphite?


Personally, I think that charcoal can often deal with slightly thinner paper than graphite does, as graphite can be rather scratchy and take a lot of the grain out (especially if you’re as into blending as I am!).

I would recommend you to use any paper over 140 gsm, as that is super durable. My personal favourite so far has been the Daler-Rowney Fine Grain Heavyweight Pad (200 gsm), since it holds pigment really well and the grain is quite durable, without being overly textured. Plus, it can take a decent amount of watercolour as well…


How are charcoal and graphite drawing techniques different? 


Charcoal is a sensual beautiful medium and needs to be handled carefully and with a lot of passion for great results. 


Charcoal drawing techniques require correct preparation and application to achieve a good result. The difference between graphite and charcoal is that charcoal is a very dark and quite loose powdery medium, making it difficult to control unless you understand certain techniques. This loose control is perfect for beautiful large broad sketches on sheets of butchers paper, brown or coloured paper. However, it can also be used for absolutely gorgeous realism pieces which have such a beautiful expressive artistic quality that no pencil medium can achieve. There is very little difference in tone between various grades of charcoal and various brands and this limited tonal range is another reason for excellent technique required to gain good results. With Charcoal our tonal range is limited by the product, unlike graphite pencil so we rely on technique to create the tonal range. With graphite pencil there is quite a bit of contrast between say a 3H pencil and 3B.


In order to create a good tonal range with charcoal we can work with pressure and quantity of charcoal applied, the color and tonal value of the paper we use, and we can also consider using white charcoal or white conte to create our level 1 tones when the paper is toned.


Another big difference is that charcoal has a matte surface, whereas a graphite drawing will have a slight sheen to it, so I found graphite drawings much more difficult to photograph because you have to have it at just the right angle to not get glare in your photograph.


As already elucidated, graphite pencils come in various types depending on its hardness and darkness scale from 8H to 8B but charcoal doesn’t.

Charcoal has bigger grains, gives rich black colors when used and is easy to smudge and hence it is best suitable for shading whereas, in case of graphite pencils, it is hard to blotch them thus it is rarely preferred by the artists to make the final work. However, to create an initial sketch artist prefer graphite pencils over charcoal.

We hope that this article was helpful. Which one do you prefer? Graphite or charcoal? Tell us by leaving a comment below!

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