Artist's charcoal leaves a uniformly coloured mark that adjusts with pressure. Charcoal art sticks make rich black lines with hard pressure and soft grey shadows with light pressure. Frugal artists make drawing charcoal from vines and twigs. For many artists, homemade drawing charcoal works just as well as charcoal sold in arts and crafts stores.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Measuring tape
- Vines or sticks
- Pruning shears
- Metal bucket
- Aluminium foil
- Sharp pencil
- Outdoor fire pit
- Work gloves
- Large coffee can with lid
Gather vines or twigs of willow, linden, wisteria or grapevines, which are good materials for making drawing charcoal. Use twigs and vines that are 1/4- to 3/8-inch in diameter from trees or plants that you know are at least two years old. Ask the property owner about the age of the plants if you harvest your sticks on rented property or from a neighbours yard. Avoid using treated varieties of lumber, which release toxic fumes when heated.
Measure the depth of your steel bucket from the inside of the bucket floor to the top rim on one side with a measuring tape. Use this measurement to determine the length of your twigs or vines. Cut the vines, twigs or lumber to the measured length with pruning shears.
Fill the bucket with vines and twigs by standing them upright with one end on the bucket floor until they pack tightly against each other. Cover the top of the bucket with aluminium foil and fold it firmly around the edge to form a seal. Use one sheet of heavy duty foil, or two sheets of ordinary strength foil. Poke two or three small holes into the centre of the foil covering with a sharp pencil. Prepare an extra sheet of foil to cover the bucket after roasting the charcoal art sticks.
Put on heavy work gloves. Avoid wearing loose clothing while working around an open fire to make vine charcoal.
Build a wood fire in an outdoor fire pit. Place the bucket handle over a long pole such as a broomstick to suspend the bucket over the fire. Keep the bucket over the flames until smoke stops coming out from the holes in the foil cover.
Take the bucket off the fire and cover the top with the extra sheet of aluminium foil. Allow the bucket to cool completely with the foil covering in place. Remove the foil after cooling and inspect your homemade drawing charcoal. The charcoal sticks should make solid lines on paper that erase easily with a standard pencil eraser. Store the charcoal art sticks in a sturdy container that seals closed such as a large coffee can to contain the black dust.
Tips and warnings
- Experiment with different types of wood and vines to find out which makes the best charcoal art sticks.
- Avoid brushing the dust from a charcoal stick onto your clothing. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling homemade drawing charcoal.
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