Tom Benson Creative Writer and Artist
Tom Benson           Creative Writer                                      and Artist

Charcoal Pencil - Loch Faskally, Pitlochry

Charcoal is available in various forms.

The three main types are, Compressed Sticks (look like black or grey soft pastel), Willow (which is the most fragile, and like thin sticks), and finally Charcoal Pencils (which have a 'lead') considerably thicker than regular pencils.


It's worth noting that charcoal is also available in grades of grey and brown.

For this session, I used Charcoal Pencils. Unlike the sharpening of regular pencils, for these, I used a knife blade.

In my set, I had the option of soft, medium, and hard, so I used one of each.

1. The photo of Loch Faskally shows the loch on a calm day which gives the water surface a mirror effect. 

To balance a picture like this I suggest starting by judging the centre point using a pencil.

2. Using the same method, calculate the midway point in the height of the original picture.

As with any subject like this, it pays dividends to become well-acquainted with the subject matter.

Note early on where the highlights are and where the shadows fall.

When I took the picture it was with this session in mind. I aimed to 'frame' the view with the silhouette of the trees and undergrowth in the foreground.

3. Use a 'hard' grade for the initial layout.

To give a lighter touch I suggest holding the pencil high and it creates a featherlight touch on the paper. This is a technique I use whenever I'm working with pencils of any type.

Draw a straight line across the perceived centre of the drawing, which will represent the distant point where the water meets the edge of the woodland.

As always, have no fear if several lines are produced - they will be used and disappear when shading is underway.

4. Using the same grip of the pencil and the same featherlight touch, produce a rough sketch of the main components of the picture. Work as quickly as possible.

A thin tree borders the left, while two trees border the right, and the undergrowth in the foreground is substantial.

Due to the calm surface of the water, there is a temptation to draw the forestry almost as two large triangles - but don't.

Draw the forestry on left and right, and lightly represent the reflection. The main body of water should be left white for now.

5. The 'hard' grade charcoal has been used to produce a basic layout, but we can now step up to a 'medium' grade, which will be softer and therefore darker.

Instead of holding the pencil in the conventional grip with the tips of the thumb and two fingers, try holding with four fingers along the edge opposite the thumb.

This graphic is to demonstrate the grip - not the method.

When in use, your fingertips will be facing the drawing surface.

6. Here is the technique in use.

When producing the undergrowth the tip of the pencil may be lifted and brought into contact rapidly to produce short individual strokes. 

Some of the strokes will be blended later, but others will stand out as single blades of grass.

For the distant forestry, use a few short strokes and small 'bunches' of strokes together to represent thicker woodland.

7. The general appearance is there at this stage. Note the line of still water between the physical woodland and the reflection.

At this point, use a fingertip or blending stub to 'blend' and soften the reflection.

Blend the grasses and undergrowth in the foreground, but only at the base, not near where it meets the water.

Touch up again in the darker areas with the medium pencil.

8. Now, using the medium grade in the conventional grip, draw in the main branches of the trees, and add more depth to the foliage.

Represent the leaves along the top edge and add a few on the extreme tips of the branches.

Draw in the ferns and reeds at the forward edge of the base area.

9. Using the 'soft' or darker pencil, work in depth to the trees, branches and groups of leaves. Create depth in the undergrowth and add a few dark strokes to the fern and reeds.

Using a blending stump or fingertip, blend all areas of forestry to avoid clear lines between the groups. Gently rub the reflection of the woodland.

Lightly blend the water surface where it is closest to the ferns and reeds. The centre of the loch should remain untouched and appear highlighted.

Continue to darken and blend. Pay particular attention to the foreground where the ferns and reeds will stand out against the water. Add a few short strokes to represent grass along the edge, and add plenty of 'individual' blades of grass in the foreground.



Wednesday 13th June 2018


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