Pencil Mania – Part 2; Charcoals, Pastels and Woodless Pencils

A friend jokingly said “That is why I shop online, the Art Store displays are too tempting to resist.” I smiled and replied “Then do you end up buying all the recommended best sellers” Both of us burst out laughing. At the end of this friendly discussion we agreed that knowing your Art Material can definitely help save up some money.

In my previous post, I shared about Graphite and Coloured Pencils. Do refer to that to associate a connection with this post. In this post I will share about Charcoal Pencils, Pastel Pencils and Woodless Pencils. Woodless Pencils are Graphite Pencils without a casing. They are covered in a coat of lacquer. They are helpful in shading large areas. It is a helpful tool that you would want to add to your Art Kit, once you are confident in Pencil Shading. Similar to them are ‘Sticks’.

‘Sticks’ are like a thick block of pigment. They just have a sheet of paper wrapped around it or sometimes none. When we say ‘Pastels’ we normally refer to the stick form. If you want it in the pencil form, you need to ask for ‘Pastel Pencils’. Similar to Coloured Pencils even Pastels are pigment combined using a binder such as; wax, oil, gum, clay or water soluble.

Pastels are of two types 1) Hard Pastels 2) Soft Pastels.


A special tip here – if you ask for crayons, you will get Wax based Pastels. Oil Pastels are also referred to as Hard Pastels in some countries. Many people call Oil Pastels as Crayons which may cause undue confusion. Pastels made using Clay as a binder are commonly called ‘Chalk’. Pastels made using Gum as a binder are referred to as Soft Pastels. Water Soluble Crayons are similar to Watercolour Pencils but are used mostly by children. Pastels are also available in the form of compressed powder palettes called Pan Pastels.

Both Charcoals and Pastels are available as Pencils, Sticks and in Powder form. Charcoals and Pastels are preferred by many Artists for sketching Portraits and Landscapes. The investment is relatively less than what an artist would have to make for doing other kinds of Paintings.

Charcoal is a form of graphite or carbon. In simple words it is ‘Soot’ or a burnt material. The lead tip of a Charcoal Pencil is made up of compressed Charcoal Powder. Charcoals made without using any binders are best preferred. This means it is a nice dark lovely black pigment. Charcoal Pencils are available as Soft-Medium-Hard. Each of these leads will create a different texture when rubbed against the paper. The smoothness of the paper also affects this texture. Just like Graphite Pencils even Charcoal Pencils will have grades like 2B-4B-6B ; higher the number, darker the pencil.

We get combo packs consisting of 2-3 different Graphite Pencils, 2-3 different Charcoal Pencils, a Sharpener, 2-3 different size Stumps, 1-2 Charcoal Sticks and a Kneaded Eraser. ‘Stumps’ are tightly wound paper sticks used as a blending tool. If you are a beginner and don’t know much about the material, you may want to go for a combo pack like this. It is enough to begin learning Charcoal Painting.

Charcoal Painting

Charcoal is mostly black as associated with coal. Can we say Charcoals are black, while Pastels are colour? No, because we get coloured Charcoal Powder as well. Just as explained in the previous post both these are available in two variants 1) Artist Quality 2) Student Quality

I thought I would first share what is available in the market and explain a few jargons and then share about selecting from these. Making a choice should now be easy!

‘Pastels Painting’ mostly refers to Soft Pastels. One box of as many shades as you like from a good brand is enough. Yes! Like Crayons, Oil Pastels and Coloured Pencils ‘more the colours, more the fun’. Hard Pastels don’t need blending while you can use your fingers to blend Soft Pastels. You can use Charcoal Pencils or Pastel Pencils for finer details because the sticks are too thick to draw a fine line. Pastel Pencils are Soft Pastels in Pencil form.

Charcoal Pencil, Sticks or Powder entirely depends on the Artist whichever form of Charcoal they are comfortable using. Some Artists avoid powders while some use only powders. For a beginner a ready small pack with three black pencils, one white pencil, sharpener and eraser is good to go. Sometimes I use black and brown Pastels instead of Charcoal Sticks. Yes! We can mix the two in the same Artwork. They work well.

If it’s only Charcoals you wish to work with, your selection will be something like this:

Charcoal Pencils, Powder, Sticks, Sumps and Kneaded Eraser

1) Three Charcoal Pencils – 2B, 4B, 6B in Black

2) A White Charcoal Pencil

3) 2-3 Stumps (a ready pack of standard sizes) or you may use cotton buds or your own fingers to blend if you are comfortable. Any brand will do.

4) A Kneaded Eraser – I call it a magic eraser. It is specially for this purpose. It is often included in combo packs or can buy it individually.

5) Charcoal Sticks – This is usually a ready pack of only sticks.

6) Sharpener for your Pencils

7) Charcoal Powder – You would need stumps to apply this. Colours like blacks and browns are most commonly used. Other colours are available but it’s up to you.

If you already have Graphite Pencils it would be better to buy only the smallest combo pack of charcoal pencils and try it out first. Even if you make the other purchases later it will be less costlier than a otherwise all included big combo. So now you know all about your Pencils. Looking forward to doing some Art next. Have an Arty Weekend!

Published by #artistniralimehta

Nirali is an Artist doing Art and Illustrations both hand drawn as well as digital. She is a trained professional with good work experience in her field. She masters various art styles and has shops on Etsy, Redbubble, Society6 all three by the same name ‘NMartworks’

2 thoughts on “Pencil Mania – Part 2; Charcoals, Pastels and Woodless Pencils

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