Using Charcoal to Draw On Painting Canvas

When you already have the perfect sketch of the subject of your choice perfectly drawn on paper, how to transfer it into a canvas for painting?

The easiest way would be to use a charcoal stick and draw the basic shapes and simple lines on the canvas to represent your subject.

Of course, you can choose to redraw the whole sketch on canvas lines by lines, but this will obviously consume a lot of time and patience.

Besides, it would be difficult to paint on top of an intricate charcoal sketch, especially as layers and layers of oil paint are applied.

To avoid mixing the oil paints with the black colors of charcoal, you will need to spray fixative on the canvas surface, after sketching and before applying oil paints, as to ensure the charcoal and paint layers will be separated yet still visible during the painting process. However, sometimes an artist simply just wants to create a whole masterpiece by using solely charcoal on canvas.

Depending on your personal preference, you could either use a smooth canvas, as typically used for various types of paintings, or you can choose a rougher fabric to capture the bold strokes of charcoal, while at the same time giving texture to the painting.

A rough canvas is a more popular choice among artists, simply because it is tougher to leave perfect strokes using charcoal on smooth surfaces. You should try out different types of canvas to find out your own preference and style.

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With the many different types of charcoal available today, an artist would definitely be spoilt for choice. If you are in the process of buying charcoals, it is highly advisable to try it out first on a scrap piece of paper to get a feel of it.

That is, if the store allows it. Otherwise, just buy one type of charcoal first and familiarize yourself with it. At the beginning of all drawing and painting session, you should scribble some random lines first on a spare piece of paper or old canvas to make sure the charcoal will leave fresh marks on the actual drawing surface later.

Charcoal can be used on unprimed canvas if you do not want to bother with primers, or if you simply want to retain the original color of the fabric. However, the canvas will change color as time passes, even making the charcoal crumbles even if sprayed with fixative.

One way to avoid this is to apply gesso that has the same tint as the raw canvas before using charcoal on top. Although it is not very common for art shops to stock tinted primers, you can always try to search for it online.

Being a flexible medium, charcoal can be used along other dry materials, such as pastels, for bringing in colors without resorting to wet materials that can be messy and requires preparations in advance.

Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, even if you applied a generous amount of fixative afterwards, the surface is still at risk to various mechanical damages. To protect your artwork, it is highly suggested to have it framed behind glass while preventing the canvas surface from touching the glass directly.

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