Interesting Stories

Simple Realistic Charcoal Drawing: A How-To Article

When I was growing up I never thought that I could be "good" at art either, I was so critical of myself that it prevented me from creating the things that lived in my mind. Insecurity is one of the biggest artist inhibitors, and I'm writing this today to show that anyone can create.

One of the biggest things that make me upset as an artist is how many times I have heard people say:

“I could never do that.”

“Oh my god, I love that! I wish I could create, but I just don’t have the mind for it.”

When I was growing up I never thought that I could be “good” at art either, I was so critical of myself that it prevented me from creating the things that lived in my mind. Insecurity is one of the biggest artist inhibitors, and I’m writing this today to show that anyone can create. It’s an amazing outlet, and creates a personal pride afterwards that is unique to any other feeling experienced. There are so many different types of art, hundreds of styles, trillions of possibilities! Nobody should feel excluded.

So today, I’m going to explain step-by-step how I draw an apple. If this guides gives a single person the confidence to create something of their own, that’s creation of an independent thinker. And that is priceless.

This is the reference picture I will be using for this tutorial. One of the most important parts of drawing something “realistically” is actually having a picture or physical version of what you want to draw in front of you. The brain tends to oversimplify the world, and unless you’ve stared at apples for thousands and thousands of hours, it will be pretty hard to know exactly what one looks like, down to the details.

These are the materials I utilize for charcoal drawings, so that I have as much creative freedom as possible:

  • 12-inch Ruler
  • Pencil Sharpener
  • Gum Eraser
  • Soft/Medium Grade Compressed Charcoal
  • 3 Blending Stumps (larger, medium-ish, very small)
  • Charcoal pencil (optional)

Now we can start drawing! Take the ruler, and find a prominent angle along the outer edge of the object being drawn. Once you find the angle, keep the ruler at that angle and carefully move it to the paper. Trace the ruler with your charcoal pencil along that angle, and move to the next prominent angle attached to the first one you drew. Repeat. Continue doing this until you have drawn every aspect of your subject.

TIP: Try to draw as lightly as you can with the pencil, so it’s easily erasable if a line is drawn that you don’t like!

It should look something like this, once the angles are all translated to paper! This is a sort of “cage” for your drawing to live in. A way to keep your art the way you want it with “controlled chaos”

For the next few steps, we are going to focus on lighting. Light is one of the main proponents for making a picture look realistic. Light gives a picture depth when we’re able to differentiate between shadows and bright spots.

These three pictures show a rough outline of three general gradient levels. The darkest parts of the subject are the leftmost picture, the lightest are the rightmost picture. The middle picture is showing all of the mid-level shadow values. In hyper realistic pictures there are many many more shadow values than this, but it’s not necessary for this interpretation.

When moving forward i this step, don’t think of the subject as an apple. Think of it as a bunch of shapes, made from light (and absence of light). For the darkest shadow values, press hard on the paper to make it darker. As you make your way to the medium-value shadows, just don’t press as hard on the paper with the charcoal. And for the lightest spots, just leave them blank.

I used a charcoal pencil for the smaller areas that had different shadow values, to make the detail more precise.

TIP: If you want to add more shadow values, go ahead! It’s your choice to make!

Next, we’re going to want to blend the shadow shapes we have just outlined. Simply take your blending stump, and “draw” over the charcoal in a circular motion. This makes the magic happen.

It’s also okay to use your finger or a paper towel to blend the shadows together. For me, a blending stump works best.

As you use the blending stump, it will pick up loose charcoal and spread it around when you’re blending. When moving to the lighter shadow areas, I like to draw the excess charcoal away to make the shadow values what I want them to be. I do this by drawing little lines (away from the drawing) until the line isn’t dark anymore.

Keep blending all of the larger shadow shapes together!

Use the differently sized blending stumps however you like. I choose to use them for smaller, more detailed parts of the subject’s shadows.

Blending the outer edges of the lightest shadow shapes with your smallest blending stump, so that the edge doesn’t look so abrupt. Take your gum eraser and erase any stray charcoal that may have flown outside the lines.

TIP: You don’t have to do this step if you don’t want to. It’s your creation!

And voilà! We’re done!

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again. There is an artist living inside all of us. Having the ability to create, form ideas, and think abnormally are one of the larger aspects that make us human. Embrace your mind, embrace the ideas that make you unique. Just create. It’s important for you, and everyone else.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

Pablo Picasso

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