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Best Tips to Begin Charcoal Drawings:

Austinsullivanart has the best routes to elevate your drawings into works of art. 

If you've drawn before, you might understand the fundamentals of shading, contrast and what materials work for you best. 

I have gotten the question, "Austin, how do you make your drawings look so realistic?" I thought it was finally time to tell you how. 

There are 5 main tips when developing a realistic charcoal portrait. 

1. Studying your subject. Whether you draw from photographs (like me), or from still life, make sure that you can correctly identify the details of your subject. Once you have understood the elements of your model, you will be able to understand the lights, darks and begin mapping out the outline. 

2. Transitioning & Taking it Slow. I used to complete all my drawings in 100% graphite, honestly I was nervous to transition to charcoal. I was afraid of messing up, or completely ruining my art. 2021, the year I created this website, was also the year I began using charcoal. I was working on a portrait, and graphite was not getting the hair dark enough. Nervously, I grabbed a stick of charcoal and smeared it onto the paper. I honestly thought the drawing was wrecked. Messing around, I then covered all the hair in charcoal, and I was pleasantly surprised. The charcoal made the rest of the drawing appear too light, but the hair looked great. Slowly, I incorporated charcoal into the rest of the piece. I darkened inside the mouth, the eyes as well as the nostrils. Finally incorporating darks was a game changer! 

3. Breaking Barriers. Once I completed that drawing, I started using charcoal in every piece following. The ratio of charcoal to graphite equaled out in late 2021, then in 2022 and 2023 my works were 100% charcoal, with no graphite included. Once you are able to take a step out of your comfort zone, your art will emerge. 

4. Don't be Afraid to Get Messy. It is a known fact that charcoal is messy, and will probably stain your rugs... so be cautious. Although not too cautious because trying to maintain charcoal can be very difficult. Learning to embrace the medium you are using will help you become more comfortable with creating products you are satisfied with.

5. Consistently Refer to Your Model. I cannot stress this final point enough. People have asked me why their drawings do not match up with their model. Once I study them side by side, I am able to recognize small problems. Some individuals do not get the correct outline of their model which could cause misalignment when trying to replicate the study. If you're going for hyperrealism or realism, when your outline is not accurate, the drawing will look disproportionate. Some may rush, so take your time.

Personally, I am not a fan of the lines in my drawings that the charcoal pencil can make, so I bought charcoal powder which is brushed on for a smoother look especially with skin and hair. There is always an alternative to still produce a great final product. Overall, try out different approaches and find what works best. 

You could also watch some informational YouTube videos and do some research on the best materials that benefit you. Visit your local craft store and take a look in the drawing department for some affordable products. 

Thank you so much for reading, I wish you good luck creating!

- Austin

How To - Realistic Charcoal Drawing: About
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