OCAD Studio: Charcoal Still life Part 1

This exercise introduces techniques in charcoal which will provide you with a broad range of expression. We will look at loose textural application techniques that can be used to create interesting abstract backgrounds as well as refined drawing techniques that will allow you to create detailed focal points where necessary.

In this lesson we will be sketching in the main lines and shapes of shadows in preparation for the textures and forms that will be added in the next stage.


  • 1 sheet of strong drawing paper (I recommend Fabriano Ingres or something similar)
  • A couple of similarly sized sheets of cartridge paper
  • A few different types of charcoal (I recommend Nitram Charcoal in B and HB)
  • Kneadable eraser
  • Hard white eraser (the normal type of eraser)
  • Sponge
  • Kitchen towel
  • Sanding Block
  • Drawing Board
  • Masking Tape


Setting Up

  1. Assemble a subject, I recommend something simple and quite like a teapot or vase with a few extra elements, such as fruit or flowers etc.
  2. Have an even background behind, this could be a panel of wood, paper or fabric.
  3. Light the subject from one side so that the shadow shapes are clear.
  4. You can photograph your subject or leave it in situ and work from life, whatever you prefer.
  5. Once your subject is ready you can sort out your paper – tape the extra sheets of cartridge paper to the drawing board before taping the sheet of drawing paper over the top. The paper below cushions the drawing paper from the board so you wont get any wood textures showing through as you draw.
  6. Set up you drawing board vertically, on an easel and next to you subject, this way you won’t have to hold it while you draw.
  7. Now you’re ready to start drawing.

Sketching in the Lines

  1. Start by roughly plotting the approximate size of the subject on the paper. You can do this by noting the farthest left point of the drawing, farthest right, top and bottom with light, sketchy marks.
  2. Once you’re happy with the size of the drawing you can start loosely adding in the specific shapes of your subject. Keep your lines very light and sketchy, you don’t need to erase everything, as the sketchiness adds character.
  3. Don’t go into too much detail, you just need to have the overall proportions blocked in before moving on.

Blocking in Shadows

  1. Once you’re happy with the line drawing, you can lightly block in the shadow shapes.
  2. Just pick the obvious dark shapes in you subject and sketch them over your line drawing. They don’t need to be very neat or dark, as we want a sketchy look and we’ll be working a lot over the top in later stages.
  3. When all the major shadow shapes in the subjects and background are in, you’ve completed the first stage!

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