View Full Version : TUTORIAL - Traditional Charcoal Drawing Step by Step - by Rebeccak

01 January 2007, 12:45 AM
Hi guys, by no means is this a perfect drawing or tutorial, but I decided to post this step by step in case it might help someone. I did this drawing today for a Drawing Class I'm sitting in on. Here goes. :)

Final Drawing, Master Copy after Rubens (

Following are the process shots:

Step 1 - I used a regular 2B writing pencil to block in the basic linear angles of the form. This helps me to see proportions / major shapes right away. I consider this my 'first sight' - things may be off here, but I'll try to correct them as I go along. I've actually never worked this way, blocking in the lines with a 2B pencil - I usually just start with charcoal, but am trying to incorporate the blocking technique of Anthony Ryder (

After the initial pencil block in, I started drawing with General's 6B Charcoal Pencil, which I shaved and sharpened to a point and then sanded:

You can see here that I am working from top to bottom, using the initial pencil blocking as a rough guide:

I just keep going, adding more 2B pencil lines if I get lost. The 2B pencil lines act as a rough guide, but I take liberties with the 6B charcoal marks to make them much more expressive:

01 January 2007, 12:48 AM
I take frequent breaks to refresh my sight and because I have "ADD" :) - I want to make sure that I show the twist of the upper torso against the pelvis:

I start to define the upper right leg:

Detail of the thigh / upper leg:

I try to incorporate the principle of "Opposing Curves" at every stage of the drawing:

01 January 2007, 12:49 AM
Continuing to define the outer contour and inner tone - I try not to think of any part of the drawing as detailing specifically, since that implies rendering a specific part of the drawing without relationship to the whole. I try to see each mark as a part of the overall gesture of the whole figure:

I continue on with this principle in mind:

I still take many breaks to refresh my sight. Typically I'll stop when I get bored, so that I don't take this out on the drawing and subsequently ruin it:

01 January 2007, 12:49 AM
I found that my 'first sight' of the left leg was really off, so I redrew it several times in 2B pencil before adding opposing curve contour lines in charcoal:

I try to remain aware of the whole drawing as I am drawing the curves of the left leg. The main idea of the pose is the twist of the upper torso against the pelvis and the legs, so I try to incorporate that idea at every step of the drawing:

Finally I start to add shading to the interior of the left leg once I'm fairly happy with the exterior contour:

01 January 2007, 12:49 AM
A closeup of the legs:

To delineate a bit of the space and light between the two legs, I add shading that is representative of the light angle and of the general feeling / motion of the pose. I create these strokes at a slight angle to convey motion and tension in a subtle way:

The final drawing:

01 January 2007, 01:01 AM
Image of setup with in progress drawing (scuze the messiness) :) - hope this helps!

The book is: Rubens: A Master in the Making (National Gallery London Publications) (Hardcover): (

01 January 2007, 01:16 AM
Feedback, comments, critique, all welcome. :)

EDIT: Thanks to kary, here ( is an online version of the original.

01 January 2007, 02:06 AM
Great tutorial...will try it out in my life class tuesday night...will use a light brownish red colored conti pencil to get the basic shape , gesture, and proportion, using a line from that pencil,..then go into it with the wider conti crayon of the same color as the pencil.
I noticed that when I draw direct from the model using the crayon, my proportions are way off,..the form is there, but just not in the right proportion....This method might be the way to correct that problem of proportion, before I go for the curves, ect.
I was thinking that the problem was in me just ajusting to working a lot bigger than I have for a long time, but it might just be a matter of getting everything in proper proportion first with a light outline gesture drawing, and then hitting it with the energy strokes that creat the volume ect. and bring it life .
THANKS for this demo...just might do the trick for me in this case...:thumbsup:

01 January 2007, 02:11 AM

Thanks a lot! :) You know, I feel so foolish - for years, I've just sort of attacked the page with charcoal, making the first mark and sort of just hanging on for dear life after that to make everything relate - and needless to say, since I tend to draw large, my figures always have spilled off the edge of the paper. By doing the Ryder method block-in first, it makes the entire process so much simpler, it's incredible. Wish I had been practicing it years before. :)

I guess that I have come to realize that learning drawing is not a simple, straightforward process. As a student, I picked up many different styles and methods from different teachers, and it has taken me years of piecing things together - what I think of as synthesis - to come to my own conclusions about drawing. Today was a bit of a leap in that I had never before combined this simple blocking method with my own master copy / calligraphic style - so I am really pleased how seamlessly the two worked together.

I definitely recommend trying the blocking, it's fast and it makes seeing proportions so much simpler! :)

EDIT: A comparison gif shows where I'm off:


01 January 2007, 02:54 AM
Very deep sketch, better you then me just touches on how far away I am from this kind of thing myself. (Which doesn't stop me from blathering on :))

Good sense of how the muscles enter/exit in this. You can really feel how the large muscles at the back of the leg work into the buttock, and how the visible rib cage slides into the back. A very solid feel to the pelvis / legs, I get the impression it's firmly planted and could lift weight -- more then just hold up the torso.

There is a different feel in the tonal range of the sketchs, (beyond Rubens being in a conte colour and yours having a solid black). I think the left edge of the left buttock shows it off well, his has the same structure, but you've placed more emphasis there -- it begins to feel muscled in an area that we know is fatty. 2nd example: Right shoulder, you have a dark line down the middle of the blade (a line which is close to his, you just have it a bit solider line in places), and then you have bright whites to the left of it where he doesn't seem to go hotter then a three quarter grey.

There are a few issues with how things line up, nothing game breaking and not much that shows up until you can do a side by side. In the shoulder blade you've widened the area between the spine and the blade a fair bit, but have defined the lines of the spine and blade very much like his. It makes sense as those are the two key landmarks in the area, but it seems like you could have avoided the widening in the blocking stage. In your roughing stage have you thought about roughing in the major darks with a piece of light (vine) charcoal? The iterative process that you're using in blocking in could/should be continued in the shading process, that is where the forms without obvious lines start to get defined.

It's a lovely drawing with loads of three dimensionality, solid retension of the gesture, and a strange sense of scale to it -- it's not often that a drawing feels 'big', but thats what I'm getting here. You've got far more patience then you're crediting yourself for. Working out from a Rubens (in a large drawing) is a pretty deep prospect, breaks or no ;)

"[21:04] <Rebeccak2> I really /do/ make ruther large buttocks o_O"


01 January 2007, 03:10 AM

Thanks, you're right on the critical points and I really appreciate the feedback. :) Don't know why I spaced the blade and spine so far, but I noticed that as soon as I laid the charcoal lines down, heh - one to chalk up to the learning experience I guess. :D I think the blocking bit / more in depth / in terms of shadows is spot on and I'll likely be doing a lot more blocking from now on - really glad I tried that experimentally in a larger format drawing, it helps to keep things in check for sure. Next time I'll be more careful with the blocking stage though, as it is, I see how far the legs are off, and I even managed to miss that obvious neg. space between the two legs, doh! Thanks for all your pointers, as usual, I enjoy reading your comments and appreciate the feedback. :)

01 January 2007, 07:27 AM
The blocking in is indeed important, concidering both proportion and composition, but -as my teacher at school keeps repeating in my ear constantly - one should never emprison him/herself within the boundaries of the blocks.
This is a great reminder of that :)

I think some of the muscles are very strongly defined... as if there is no skin on top, but I think that is your style and while this is an anatomy study after all, it adds to the whole.
It's a wonderful piece...

Your lines and curves... whoa! I envy that :D

Thanks for posting this Rebecca. I'll be coming back to this thread every now and then for sure!

01 January 2007, 10:26 AM
Awesome, Rebecca!! thanks... this is really helpful!:thumbsup:

01 January 2007, 12:41 PM
It was very ineteresting and helpful to see and read it all, Rebecca! Now where do I get some charcoal pencils...

01 January 2007, 03:01 PM

Thanks for the comments! :) Heh, you're right about the skinless bit, I guess that's just a drawing habit, will have to think about how to change it. I'll definitely keep it more in mind. I'm glad you liked the tut, and hope it is useful.


Thanks! I am glad you liked it, though I doubt you need it. ;)


Thank you. :) Charcoal pencils shouldn't be hard to find, I shouldn't think...if you have charcoal sticks, you can even sharpen them to a point, which is, I think how they are supposed to be used, but pencils are better because they are not as messy. I hope you can find some. :)

01 January 2007, 06:05 PM
Hi Rebecca, thanks for the tutorial. I'm trying charcoal myself, so it is very useful to see how you work. It's very useful to see the pictures of the actual setup, to get an idea of size.

01 January 2007, 07:36 PM
Hi there,

Another great teaching from you. :D
Thanks a lot for your patience and dedication once more :)
It's very nice to see you charcoal technique like that and even more read other experienced artists comments here.

Best wishes, cya,

01 January 2007, 02:16 AM

Thank you, I'm glad it was useful, and I look forward to seeing your charcoal drawings. :)


Thanks for dropping by and for your supportive comments. :)

01 January 2007, 05:08 AM
Great to see you put together this step by step Rebecca. I have totally fallen in love again with charcoals and pencils. I think for the next couple of months, I'll just be using those at the academy.

01 January 2007, 05:44 AM
Thanks QS. :) For the interested, I'm working on a pencil self portrait for my class (WIP) - hehe, I haven't done a drawing like this since high school, but it's fun:

Step by steps so far are here:

WIP Step by Steps (;f=7;t=95;st=0;r=1;&#entry461);f=7;t=95;st=0;r=1;&#entry461

Will post a full step by step when I'm finished with this. :)


01 January 2007, 05:09 PM
Thanks so much for the walkthrough. Not much else to add to what's already been said.

01 January 2007, 07:34 PM
Nice demo rebecca. very helpful. i'm ging to try the technique tonight.Very nice drawing as well of course. Thanks.

01 January 2007, 11:56 AM

Tried the method that your promoting out in my figure drawing class last night....WOW..:bounce: NO MORE PROPORTION PROBLEM when doing life size drawings..NIICCCEEEE....:)
It took a little longer...didn't have time to do the shading, only a 20 min. pose, but better to get it right in the beginning taking a little longer, than to get it wrong in the end..:) ..The speed required to finish it with shading,will come with practice...hated to see that class get over last night, I was just getting warmed up with this method that is new to me while doing life size drawings...will get the shading with the broad strokes of the conti crayon on the next one now that I have a feeling for this method of drawing..:)
Just wanted to say THANKS...I think that now my classes will be alot more enjoyable...SO THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THAT...Rebecca.:thumbsup:
Will post that first drawing using this newly found method in my thread tonight, so you can see the results, and check out the difference in proportion between this new drawing I did last night using this method and the ones done right before it, not using this method..BIG DIFFERENCE..Made the teacher in my class really happy..:scream: ....and me too...:)
By the way...really like that self portrait of yours...:thumbsup:

01 January 2007, 06:10 PM
You have a fantastic style Rebecca, and your passion for the medium really shows. It was really nice to look through the steps, I'm itching to do a charcoal drawing myself now!

03 March 2007, 10:08 PM
Hi there,

It's interesting to see you are constantly learning and trying new things. I always took the need to improve and learn in any person as an easy to perceive sign for true mastership.

talking about mastership, the treatment of light in your shading is so rock solid. The core shadows, the light sides and the shades all corelate so strongly, that it's really giving me an extra push to strive for similar results... in short: it's inspiring.

A few thoughts about the Ryder block-in from my hrng...experience (that took me quite an effort to type, being such a noob and all, but what the hell...:D ):

- I find the basic dangers of misproportions and wrong angles in the block-in can be minimized by using the envelope before you start with the block-in. I don't know if you did that here, but in the life drawing I am doing atm (new scans will be posted some time tomorrow in my anatomy thread... see? I did not forget...:D ) I just barely started with the block-in and I am 2 1/2 hours in the drawing. On the other hand I still don't know shit so others might be faster...:scream:

- Just as the envelope can be used as a pre-block-in stage the contour can follow the block-in. Here, Ryder replaces each and every straight line of the block in with a curved convex line following the form of the model.

So, basically, I wanted to say that the block-in is merely one building block in Ryder's system. Check it out folks, it rocks big time!

The whole thing is making a big difference for me and my strive for learning how to draw, because there's so many fail safe techniques for juding, measuring and consolidating, it's just wonderful.

Thanks for that demonstration and new inspiration, Rebecca...:)

03 March 2007, 08:12 AM
this is what I got from following your tutorial (no charcol pencil just 2b for the box and 8b for shading, and i have no idea the difference of pencils so dont ask me why i used 8b if i wasnt supposed to)

CGTalk Moderation
03 March 2007, 08:12 AM
This thread has been automatically closed as it remained inactive for 12 months. If you wish to continue the discussion, please create a new thread in the appropriate forum.