Realistic Charcoal Sketching – Getting Started

In this series we will be working from a sculpture in the Met Museum collection in New York. This is a great exercise for learning traditional drawing techniques in charcoal. The MET is a great free resource for artists who want to copy from high quality images and references.

In this first session I will show you how to get started with a light and loose block-in of the main shapes and shadows.

You can download the original image I’m working from here:…

These are the minimum materials you will need:

  • Drawing paper
  • Soft willow charcoal
  • Kneadable eraser
  • Begin by (very lightly) sketching in the basic outside proportions of your subject.
  • Try to hold the charcoal as far back as possible – because this will help you to keep your lines super light.
  • Once the outside proportions are in place, you can start to make some light notes for the placement of major features and forms (eyes, nose, mouth, chin, ears etc.).
  • This is a good time to make corrections – because there isn’t too much to change yet.
  • Keep re-working these lines and shapes until they lock into place well. This will save you a lot of hassle later in the drawing.
  • Once those shapes are in place you can begin to lightly shade in the ‘shadow’ shapes.
  • Shadows are any part of the subject that doesn’t receive direct light from the light source.
  • In this drawing – most of the right side of the sculpture is in shadow because the light is streaming from the left.
  • Finally, spend some time correcting the shapes of these shadows until they seem to capture the right likeness and expression of your subject.