If you have ever wanted to learn how to draw portraits in charcoal, but had no idea where to begin, then this course is for you. Let’s show you what it takes so you won’t have to worry about it. 

Begin by sketching out the subject’s features, shading areas, highlighting details, and finally, contrast the background. 

The following blog post will teach you how to draw portraits with charcoal using four simple steps. Also, we gave you tips on improving your drawing skills. Come on!




1. Develop the features of the face 

Essentially, a portrait is an art work that portrays the likeness of someone. To draw a realistic picture, you need to know the size of the head and how many proportions it will contain in order to plot them correctly. 

For newbie artists, this step is necessary for getting the right proportions. Seasoned artists do not usually use a grid to begin with their drawings. In order to sketch an accurate likeness, you need to take note of the ratio between the eyes, nose, and mouth, as well as the curves around the ears or along the jawline. 

The facial features such as cheekbones, eyelid folds, nose curves, and ear curves should be drawn accurately in order to achieve an accurate illustration. Don’t overdo your sketches because you may be faced with pain later.

2. Draw the sketch with shadows and highlights blocked in

Adding shadows and highlights to your portrait drawing is one of the most challenging aspects of drawing in charcoal. If done incorrectly, it will look amateurish. In the right amount, your artwork will stand out. 

Make your face as dark and as light as you can by adjusting values where the darkest and lightest areas are located. To compare shadow values, you can use a grayscale swatch.

By shading at eye level around the dark and mid tones, you can add the values of the face. Refine the form of the features of the face by adding more layers. Apply a light layer of shading by using a makeup brush or charcoal.

The tone of the face can only be determined by doing this step. Once the lumps are more cohesive, you can go over them once more with your stump. 

You should keep in mind that this isn’t the final step. It is possible to erase or enhance your contributions as you go. Moreover, the artist did not get down to any fine details with her strokes. 

Smudges can be prevented by using a kitchen towel or parchment paper at this stage. The quality of your work may be affected by oil left behind by the hand. In addition to the mahl stick, you may also use an artist’s bridge as protection. 

3. Make your sketch more detailed by blending, highlighting and adding details

It’s time to add the details with charcoal pencils so that your charcoal portrait drawing looks realistic. 

Then, with the white charcoal pencil, enhance the highlights after erasing the highlights with the kneaded eraser or eraser pencil. Vine charcoal can also be used to add dark tones, then blended with a blending stump to achieve an even more refined look.

When adding details, use a charcoal pencil that’s sharp. Remember to layer your work as you add details, especially when it comes to the hair. Doing so will enable you to make more accurate charcoal drawings. Additionally, it allows you to concentrate on a specific part of the charcoal drawing until you are able to create a clearer representation of the portrait.

Also important is blending. Working with charcoal portraits requires remembering this technique. Due to the monochromatic nature of the charcoal portrait, blending smooths the transition.

4. Make the background darker so you can clearly see your portrait

The next step is to increase the contrast between the background and your portrait once your portrait drawing (details, values, highlights) is good enough. 

Your charcoal portrait is provided with an outline without adding a line drawing that affects the quality and results in a cartoony effect.

Use a charcoal pencil or compressed charcoal to add dark values behind the head. For a smoother background, use a blending stump or artist chamois to smooth the charcoal. Dark backgrounds make the portrait stand out, allowing it to take center stage. 

Keep your charcoal portrait sealed as a bonus step

It is easy to smudge and ruin charcoal sketches. Using fixative can help prevent this. Spread light layers of fixative evenly on the artwork while holding the container about 12 inches away. 

Keep your charcoal portrait sealed

The following video shows how to draw a charcoal portrait step-by-step:


Make sure you know how to use your charcoal supplies

You should know what you prefer and the differences between tools and supplies before making a purchase. Following are a few basic supplies you’ll need for drawing portraits.  


When it comes to charcoal portraits, the most important material to use is charcoal. There are various types of charcoal supplies, so you need to select the one that is right for you. 

To find the best charcoal for your style, you’ll need to experiment with different brands or types. You need a charcoal pencil, charcoal powder, compressed charcoal, and sticking charcoal.

A magic eraser

You can use erasers for more than just erasing when drawing portraits in charcoal. You can also create art that uses a reductive style when using an eraser. There are three types of erasers available: kneaded erasers, eraser pencils, and pen erasers. 

Add shading and detail to hair with the eraser. White charcoal, although it does not technically erase, enhances highlights in charcoal drawings, which is why we included it here. 

Creating Blends

The most common methods of blending are stump, brush, artist chamois, and tissue paper. We don’t recommend using your fingers for blending, even if other artists do so. 

Smudges can be caused by natural oils on the fingers when drawing with charcoal. Besides blending powdered charcoal, an old paintbrush or makeup brush will also do the job.

Sketchbook with charcoal

Your supply list should also include a quality sketchbook with a good texture (also known as a tooth). The tooth in the sketchbook will give your drawing a distinctive grainy appearance. As a result, you will get good adhesion between the charcoal particles and the paper.


Fixative, which seals in your charcoal drawings, is an essential supply.  Put a piece of board on which your charcoal portrait is taped, move it outside or in a well-ventilated room before adding a few layers of fixative to the drawing. 

Once you’re happy with your portrait, apply a permanent fixative after you’ve used a workable fixative half way through drawing the portrait.

Good-quality paper should have a good texture

When you are working on an important art piece, choose an archival charcoal sketchpad so that it will last a long time. Due to its durability and acid-free nature, archive paper is able to withstand chemical changes and discoloration.

Light is important

Your portraits depend on light. For beginners to accurately represent light’s interaction with their subject, they need to understand how light interacts with their subject. By understanding these concepts, you can create dark, half-light, and highlight tones in your drawings. 

An ideal way to compare how dark or light the values are in your reference image is to use a grayscale swatch  This will allow you to determine whether the values in your reference image are dark or light.

Layer your work

You will not be able to easily correct dark values so work in layers. Your details won’t be able to be adjusted if you start too dark. 

Remove your charcoal portrait from your wall

It may be difficult to see what’s missing from a charcoal portrait if you are too absorbed with it. Get a fresh perspective on your charcoal portrait by stepping away from it for a few hours or a day. 

Another option is to show it to a friend who can critique it. Your drawing may be improved by a fresh perspective.

Questions and Answers About Charcoal Portraits

1. Why does charcoal make a good medium for art?

You can use charcoal for other purposes besides basic sketching, as it is very similar to graphite. A shading and blending medium that allows artists to be expressive without getting stuck on details. 

In particular, charcoal sticks are ideal for broad strokes because of their blunt ends which force you to concentrate on the overall shape rather than the details. 

Alternatively, charcoal pencils can make fine details when they are sharpened, and they are easier to manipulate and less messy. 

2. How can charcoal produce fine details?

If you need to make fine details, use the side of a pointed charcoal stick. Use an H or HB charcoal pencil to make the lines. Maintain the sharpness of your charcoal pencil to add fine details. 

3. What is the best way to draw with charcoal?

The key to becoming a better charcoal artist is constant practice. Additionally, you need to make sure you understand how each charcoal supply and charcoal tool is used so you can use them appropriately. 

Don’t let your charcoal drawings get in the way of your creativity. It isn’t good for your health to stress yourself out by trying to complete it in one sitting.  

Those seeking a more detailed tutorial will do well to purchase How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal by Nathan Fowkes. 

4. Where should you store charcoal sticks?

In order to continue using it as a stick, it is important to know how to store and store wine charcoal properly. Using it another time will result in powdered charcoal. Keeping charcoal sticks in small kitchen containers is the best way to store them. 


This blog post on how to draw portraits in charcoal is meant to be educational, and we hope you have enjoyed it. Following these four simple steps will be helpful, so that’s all there is

 to it. Your best bet is to practice, be patient, and spend a lot of time! Try this tutorial if you have been curious about drawing realistic portraits in charcoal but have not yet done so.

If you use charcoal for portrait drawings, do you have any tips or tricks? Let us know below in the comments so budding artists can learn from your experiences.

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