Charcoal Still Life Drawing

In this project, students will explore how to use a variety of charcoal and chalk materials to create a drawing with value, space, contrast, emphasis, and proportion.

Student Examples


On a 12×18 SHEET OF TONED PAPER, use CHARCOAL to render
a still-life, provided in class, using PERSPECTIVE and SHADING.
A VIEWFINDER helps to find a composition.

  • Please remember to CHOOSE AT LEAST FOUR OBJECTS in the still life. Think about NEGATIVE SPACE and how large you will make the objects.
  • MAKE SURE EVERYTHING IS CORRECT BEFORE YOU ADD SHADING. Vine charcoal can be erased if you press lightly. Try not to smudge your paper. Lay a piece of newspaper over the area where your arm rests.
  • Once you have the whole image sketched out, start with the lightest values. Use vine charcoal. Highlights and very white spots can be added later. White chalk will work for those areas.
  • Double-check your shaded areas then add darker values until you have a full range of value white to black.
  • Use spray fix to make sure your drawing does not smear. Take the spray OUTSIDE.
  • An excellent drawing will use the principles of art. The drawing will have excellent perspective, a full range of values, and be placed on the picture plane to make full use of the images. It will be neat and not smudged.

Using Charcoal to create value

Example video on how to use vine, hard, and white charcoal.

Self-Critique of Work

  • You created a dynamic composition that includes at least four objects.
  • You developed a range of at least 5 values (black and white plus at least three grays).
  • Your objects and boxes are carefully and accurately drawn with details. Objects are drawn to look like they are 3D.
  • Proportions are accurate.
  • Your craftsmanship is excellent.
  • Overall, a good effort.
  • You could have made your composition more interesting by including more objects,
  • different objects, or changing the relationship of objects to the outside edges of the drawing.
  • You did use a full range of values. (look in your sketchbook at the Value page to see if you did use a range of values.)
  • Proportions of each object and box (and each part of the objects) could be more accurate and needed to be fixed earlier in the drawing process.
  • Craftsmanship needs more work: there are charcoal smudges, there are no crisp edges, etc.
  • Overall, there was room for you to develop a more detailed and interesting still-life (your drawing is too simple and/or objects look flat).
  • Overall you could have used your class time more productively.