Updated: Feb 11, 2022
Two of the most popular mediums to draw with, charcoal and graphite both confuse people a lot because both of them look like pencils but do are completely different mediums. And this means that they are different in every aspect including their strengths and weaknesses! When people which one is better, it is quite hard to answer because of their different properties and also because they work differently on different mediums.
Here is a closer look at both of them and how they are different!
WHAT IS GRAPHITE?
Graphite is a form of carbon that you must have seen in the form of a pencil lead. The pencil tip is called a lead but the lead was never used in actual writing and drawing materials, rather it was carbon. The tips were made of lead and had a graphite top coat but this is not the case now because you know; due to lead poisoning. Pencils also have a clay-like binder that holds it all together and determines how thick or thin lines will the pencil draw. Pencils with less binder and more graphite will have thicker lines and will be easier to blend as compared to the pencils with more binder.
Graphite pencils range usually from 2H or HB and go on to 6B. you don’t always need all of these pencils but you will always find the range from HB to 6B with almost every artist. Then there might be some artists who might only want to work with just 2 or 3 pencils and then there might be some who want to work with all; it just depends from artist to artist. Graphite will work better if you work on a smooth paper and it's better suited for smaller drawings and quick sketches. Since it’s mark-making surface is quite small, it is harder to cover a lot of areas.
One must tend to work with a paper no bigger than 9 X 12 inches else you will have a really hard time in getting that texture right! If you press it too hard, you might see a weird shine and this makes graphite pictures harder to photograph as well.
WHAT IS CHARCOAL?
Similar to graphite, charcoal is also a form of carbon, but it is made from burning wood until the correct consistency is reached. Charcoal only comes in soft. Medium or hard consistencies and will give you the lightest values while the darkest charcoal will give you the darkest value!
Charcoal comes both in the form of a stick and pencils and are then made of powdered charcoal which is then mixed with clay or resin which are then pressed into the core of a stick or pencil. This is usually darker as compared to graphite and can cover even the whitest of paper available out there! Similar to graphite, the range for charcoal ranges from HB to 6B. You can always change the style you hold the stick from to change get different widths and styles and hence many artists prefer charcoal sticks and not charcoal pencils!
Since soft charcoal is easy to work with and also because it spreads easily, it gives you a smooth coverage area much like oil paints. It is also more suitable for beginners because it makes it easier to erase.
Charcoal always works better on a textured paper, it is great to cover large areas as well but on the other hand, it is very messy to work with. If you don’t have a fixative, there are many chances that it will come on your hands and clothes which could smudge your drawing! It's more like a painting than like a drawing hence it is better for larger areas and not finer details.
PROs & CONs OF GRAPHITE
1. Used by most artists when they start out
2. Works great in smaller drawings
3. Does not smudge easily and won’t spread everywhere, hence it is more portable.
1. Not good for large drawings
2. Dark and looks weirdly shiny
3. Slow to work with but takes a lot of time to cover the same amount of space as compared to charcoal.
PROs & CONs OF CHARCOAL
1. Easier for beginner artists
2. Better for drawings of a larger scale
3. Achieving darer values is easy and it is faster to work with
1. Extremely messy
2. Less portable
3. Smudges very easily
Now you know how different both of these mediums are and while you can master both of them, artists usually pick one of these to master. There is no comparison as to which one is better, it is up to the artist as to which one do, they want to work with. Now it’s up to you as to which one you want to master in and work with!