Starting Figure/Portrait Drawing + Questions regarding Charcoal


Hi everyone,

I’m starting figure drawing at the moment, but have some questions I was hoping someone could perhaps clarify for me. To be honest, I’ve already started actually, but just random gesture sketches on scrap papers by looking at quick tutorials I’ve found on DeviantArt and the web in general.

Having been just drawing without any clear direction or guidance is better than nothing of course, but, I really want to take this a step further and get a little more serious about this pursuit; so below are a few questions I that I’ve been wondering and hopefully someone could point me in the right direction.

When it comes to figure drawing/life drawing, I hear it’s better to draw on larger paper so you’re actually using your shoulders and your arm instead of just your wrist so the lines come out more natural is this true?

I plan on buying a tabletop drawing-board(easel) that I can put on top of my desk adjacent to my computer monitor so I can have the canvas directly next to the image on the monitor. (and yes, I do know I should attend life drawing sessions, and intend to find one local to attend to perhaps once a week.)

But what are some good size papers I should use for the easel/drawing board? 18 x 24? 11 x 17 ? or bigger?

At the moment I’m thinking of using Charcoal for the bigger pieces that I want to practice on the easel, while perhaps using a regular smaller sketchbook/drawing pad for doing tons of gestures studies and drawings. Would this be a good way to go?

And is Charcoal a good option for the bigger pieces? I picked the medium, because I absolutely love how expressive and mysterious of a feel it displays, on top of it being more akin to painting and will allow me to focus more on the figure and anatomy aspect of things instead of spending so much time on coloring in the page with a graphite pencil’s fine tip- which i’m sure would take a while. But since I’m also doing less serious practice in pencil, albeit, on a smaller canvas, hopfully it will provide me enough experience with graphite as well so i’ll be well verse enough with both mediums when it’s all said and done.


Currently, I’ve been just grabbing whatever pencil, pen I can find at home and drawing on pieces of printing paper I have laying around, so when it comes to what materials to us for the right feel and right intentions, I am completely at a loss.

What would be a good big sized paper that I could use for charcoal drawing on an easel?

can someone recommend one cheap option for practice, and one that’s higher in quality for the more serious work? brand, size, etc. What type of papers are good for charcoal and have the right texture to create a smoother, more realistic drawing? I know with graphite pencil, the smoother it is, the easier it is to create realism, but with charcoal, we also need enough tooths in the paper in order to hold the color right?

Also, what charcoal should I get for charcoal figure/portrait drawing? From what I’ve seen on youtube, most people seem to use charcoal pencils + vine charcoal… I don’t really see anyone using those compressed sticks at all? What kind of situation actually requires it? And what brand of charcoal pencils or vine charcoal would you guys recommend?

aside from these, I would probably also need kneaded eraser, chamois, felt tortillian, blending stump for blending as well right?


Lastly, as I mentioned before. I have never really studied/portrait drawing or anatomy. And, grabbing a tutorial here and there on the internet, I feel like I’m constantly questioning what I’m doing, which makes me want to find some good books and put in the time and followed the footsteps of some of the masters from the past.

I’ve heard of Vilppu and Bridgman and many others, as well as some of the more modern figure artists such as Jeff Watts, Charles Hu, Steve Huston, Glen Orbik, Casey Baught to name a few.

It seems like when it comes to figure drawing, there’s one side that focuses more on the construction that tries to instill you the knowledge of body construction so that you will be able to draw from your mind more easily - though a style that perhaps takes longer to master, while another focuses more on realism (Atelier) that emphasizes mroe strictly on how things look as they are.

At the moment, I’m really gravitating towards Frank Reilly’s method, which I think a lot of the great artists I mentioned above have studied under; Jeff Watts being one of them.

However, unlike vilppu or some of the other great masters, there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive source for learning his method. Neither he nor his students seem to have written books on the Frank Reilly method. I know Jeff Watts has some dvds of him doing sketches and explaining, but is there really no books on the subject where one could learn everything about the Frank Reilly method? with dvds, it always feel like you’re learning bits and pieces here and there instead of a comprehensive presentation.

Anyways, sorry for such a monster post :slight_smile:
If anyone actually read it all and I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!