- Lesson details
In this series, instructor Chris Legaspi will share with you various ways to render your drawings, using a variety of different materials. Chris uses his approachable, thorough teaching style to make the often-intimidating rendering stage accessible to artists of all levels. In this fifth lesson of the series, Chris will show you some simple rendering techniques using willow charcoal. Chris will demonstrate using photo reference of a reclining male, standing female, and a standing male– all of which you can find attached to this page.
- Winsor & Newton Artists’ Willow Charcoal – Medium
- Kneaded Eraser
- Paper Stump
- Paper Towels
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Here we’re going to focus on willow charcoal.
We’re going to be newsprint again.
This time we’re going to be using willow charcoal sticks,
so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
The beautiful thing about charcoal is that it sits on the surface of the paper, so we’ll
be able to move it around.
We’ll be able to smudge it around and blend it really, really well to get some incredible
effects, incredible variety of edges.
In this lesson, I’m going to show you how to begin the stages of a long finished, more
polished rendering, and we’re also going to show you a couple of ideas on how to separate
your light and shadow to make sure that your shapes read really well too.
So, with that in mind, if you’re ready to get started, let’s begin.
is because it’s so smooth.
You can also do this on Bristol.
I would get like a vellum Bristol, Strathmore 500 Bristol is good.
It’s a little bit expensive and a little bit bulky and hard to get.
Newsprint is very common.
It’s very cheap so it’s great for practicing and sketching, and that’s what we’re doing here.
We’re learning to practice our rendering.
And I want to show you the materials.
This is what willow charcoal is.
It’s basically a stick.
It comes in a couple different sizes.
This is like the medium or thin.
Depending on which brand.
Coates is one brand.
Windsor-Newton is one brand.
I believe this is Windsor-Newton.
This is the long medium, I believe, thickness.
There are thinner ones, and then there are big fat ones.
This is perfect for figure drawing because when I go to the life drawing session, I’ll
bring this size especially for a shorter pose.
Now, for a longer poses, I’ll use the thicker willow so I can get big, fatter strokes.
That’s what this is really meant for.
I’ll talk about that in a minute.
Also, to note, is that the tip—notice there is a—see that?
The tip has been shaved.
I used some sandpaper.
I just got my sandpaper.
The reason I do that is so I can draw with it.
I’ll be able to draw.
That gives me a nice, sharp edge that’s already dull.
Because willow is so soft you have to keep that edge sharp,
and that is what the sandpaper is for.
Also, I want to note to you guys too is that you can break them into different sizes.
What this does is it creates different size marks.
The long one, the full-size one is for drawing.
I treat this as like a pencil.
But for making marks, I actually use broken sizes.
This one, I basically treat it as if it were a flat brush.
I use this size for that size mark.
The bigger size mark for that size.
It’s basically like imagine this was the width of the brush so this would be like a
number, I don’t know, like a number eight brush.
This would be like a half-inch little fatter brush.
You want to break your willows into different sizes for the different mark and the passes
you’re going to make.
And some of the other tools you’re going to use is kneaded eraser, of course.
And to blend and to soften and to move the charcoal around, because this is charcoal,
we get to move it around the surface, which is a lot of fun.
I’m going to use a paper towel and this little stump.
You could also use a brush.
I’m sure if you’re watching this you might have seen my previous portrait lesson where
you saw me using brushes.
I love brushes for this as well.
But a stump works well, a paper towel.
Even my finger.
Because this is a sketch, I’m not going to finish it.
It’s not going to be a three-hour drawing.
I don’t have to—I can use the oil in my finger because the finger produces good results,
but it’s so oily it really can’t be worked, you can’t build on it on a base of oil.
That’s why on my longer drawings I don’t use my finger, but for a sketch it’s great.
Let me show you the marks.
I might also use this pencil for detailing if needed.
I don’t think I’ll be able to do that.
Really, what I like about the willow is that because it’s charcoal it moves.
You’ll see we can get incredibly soft edges, and I’ll show you right now.
Remember, this is our hard edge.
We can get a firm edge, and we can get really soft edge by taking our finger, taking a little
bit of tone using the paper towel.
This one will lift some of it off.
Or you can use the stump.
Get more control.
You get a lot of control of the stump.
This edge right here is almost impossible to get with any other tool that you may have
seen; the charcoal pencils, the sanguine, definitely not the pen and the pencil.
They cannot get that.
Only charcoal can get this incredibly soft tone.
Of course, with charcoal we can build up really, really dark.
The willow doesn’t get that dark.
It’s probably as dark as it gets.
Again, we don’t need to just like you saw—if you saw the previous lesson, the Conté, the
red Conté, we don’t really need to get dark.
That’s not the point here.
Really, the point with this is shape.
I’m going to write that down because it’s important.
Shape, you may be wondering what does that have to do with edge and shading, but the
shape, the design of the light and shadow pattern is the first read.
That’s what the viewers see.
That’s what the mind’s eye sees is the shape.
The edge creates the form.
This allows us to do big blocky marks so that we can create beautiful shapes.
Also, this creates beautiful abstract shape, and because they are going to be using a big,
more chunkier crew technique, what we’ll get is a lot of happy accidents.
We’ll get accidental tones.
We’ll get accidental marks.
It’s going to look really, really cool.
Again, you can’t get that with any other medium than charcoal.
This lesson here is more about shape, design, and good use of shape.
I’m going to start with this first example.
It’s a male, reclining male.
Let me make sure I have room.
Going to make sure I have room on my little paper.
Same as before.
I’m going to try to treat it as if I were at life drawing.
So, the other tools we use, the charcoal pencils, it was a very painterly approach.
This for sure is a painterly approach because it’s so big and so crude.
We’re going to make big, crude strokes.
You really can’t get detailed so it forces you to think in terms of shape like a painter.
All of our tones will actually be clear, blocky shapes, like big flat brush looking marks.
That’s the cool thing about using this tool.
It’s a painter’s way to draw.
There is a head here but I’m really not too interested in the head because, again,
I won’t even be able to get any of those small shapes.
You’ll see in a minute how I’ll approach the shading here.
I’m going to work a little bit more blocky than you saw me do.
A lot more straights.
Straights are just easier to draw with a big crude tool, especially
the way we use the willow.
It’ll simulate a flat brush.
A lot of what’s in shadow we may not be able to pick out.
Come back in and grab some of the details like the accents and the bounced light.
That’s not what this drawing is about.
That’s not what this lesson is for.
That’s for another day.
That’s for a full rendering day.
Let me try to get some of these shapes here.
I’m actually almost overworking the drawing now because, as you’ll see in a moment,
all these little marks I’m making, they’re going to get washed away in tone.
Beautiful strokes of tone are going to come and wash away a lot of this stuff.
This is upshot here.
Try to get his proportion right.
That’s pretty much my block-in there.
Now I’m going to take my smaller tools, smaller pieces.
What I’m going to do is shave the tip a little bit.
Now I have this kind of shape.
It basically creates a little foot that I can use.
You see how I’m able to carve that hard edge by using the point?
My instinct was to smudge that edge with my finger.
I’ve got to be careful.
Here I’m not too concerned about the core shadow edge.
Remember, the charcoal pencil—I kind of start the edge work early as I go in the shadow
There is no way I can get any of those hand details.
Now I’m going to simply drag some of this charcoal using the stump.
You can also use your finger or a brush to create that beautiful edge.
It is really hard to get with any other tool.
That’s what I love about the willow.
That’s what I love about charcoal in general.
Look at that beautiful half-tone we just got.
We mushed all of that work we just did, but that’s okay.
I mean realistically it still reads as a figure.
I also want to make a note on technique.
When I go across a core shadow I go along the form.
Along the form, along the form?
I don’t go against the core shadow.
That’s something, you totally can.
It’ll work the other way too.
The advantage of this is that—I’ve got to mush that face.
This is definitely not working.
It’s the time for that.
It’s not the tool for that.
I want to go along the form, along the core shadow form.
Then I want to go to half-tones.
Then I can go against, like, for example, this leg.
If I wanted to do the half-tone all I have to do is put in, let’s see, smudge in a
little bit of tone.
Here, smudge in some tone here.
Smudge in some tone here.
You can see the very cool abstract quality.
It’s cool to me.
I really love to see this come to life, especially at this early stage.
It’s such a cool thing to see, the abstract looking ball of tone.
You see how we go across the form to get the half-tone.
This beautiful half-tone, beautiful soft, silky-soft edge.
We kind of lost some of the work we did.
So now we can find it.
First let me correct the value.
The brightest thing is here.
I’m not even going to address his face.
There is no way I can get these details without having a really sharp charcoal pencil, and
it would just take too long.
I’ve got to be careful with that.
Keep smudging tone back in.
Okay, so now to refine the edges we lost, we just do this.
We just go back in.
We’ve got to be careful here about touching the edge of the drawing, got to be careful.
See, just re-found that edge right there, refound this cast shadow.
Put a little more tone and we can work that with the stump or a paper towel or your finger.
Find this little detail here.
Cast shadow, core shadow here.
Now, the newsprint won’t take that many coats.
This is really, definitely more of an alla prima technique.
Alla prima means—it’s a painting term—that means at the first, meaning you only get one shot.
You pretty much only get one shot.
In this case, we’ve got two.
We’ve got two shots.
This is probably the last pass of tone before the paper starts to fight.
The paper will just not pick up additional coats anymore because it’ll have a lot of
the charcoal underneath.
I’m going along the form, along the form.
Let me see if I can get this edge.
This edge is—that’s one of those cases where the charcoal, the paper doesn’t want
to be my friend anymore.
Pick up this cast shadow.
I see that.
There it is.
Okay, so we’re pretty much done here.
See, it doesn’t want to take the charcoal anymore.
A lot of times, too, when I use a brush, a brush will give me this first pass.
It’s so smooth.
It’s really pretty to see.
Then I could address this contour if I wanted.
Of course, the face needs a lot of work.
But yeah, I think for the first pass of Conté rendering sketch, we’re at a good stopping point.
Obviously, you can see what would be next.
With the charcoal you know what’s next.
The detail, refine the edges, clean up the values a little bit.
Then we can bring in the pencil for those jobs, the detail jobs.
But this, as far as a charcoal sketch block-in, like a 15-20 minute block-in, this is a good
So, let’s move on to the next example.
I really like the drapery.
Let’s see what we can do here.
I’m just going to first.
I already have a metaphor in mind for this drawing.
I think too I’m just going to, okay, so I’ve got room.
I thought I was going to run out of room.
A little bit.
Let me re-draw.
What I’m going to do is I’m going to focus on the torso.
I’m going to leave the bottom half abstract.
I’m going to leave the bottom half abstract.
I don’t want to forget about it, meaning it’s going to be as big, shadowy dark mess
of tone, as you’ll see as it develops.
I want to put my energy in this area.
For this one I’m not going to draw the shadow shape like I did last time.
I think that’s not going to be necessary here.
Well, maybe here.
Just so I have an idea what—yeah, okay.
Again, this is exactly like painting.
Yeah, look at that.
I’m worried if I spend too much time on the details I won’t
have time for the little bit of refinement that I’m going to have to do.
Okay, let's get the brush out, aka the willow stick.
I’m just going to block in the tone using very crude marks and hope for the best.
No, I’m kidding.
I’m not going to hope for the best.
I know it’ll be okay.
I know it’ll be okay.
So if you’re familiar with Russian Academic or Chinese Realists, which are trained
in Russian Academic manner, this is Russian Academic style of shading,
at least what I know it to be.
I’ve never trained in Russia or China, but I have studied with
some Chinese Realists who came to America from the famous Chinese academies, and they
draw in this Russian Academic model.
I'm already liking this look.
I don’t know what you guys think at home, but I like this painterly look.
It feels like a statue.
Notice the shape.
Remember I said, look at what we can get, the read we can get, right?
It’s already feeling like a figure.
I’m going to start to soften that edge simply by tapping or lightly glazing over the core shadow.
You can start to soften that edge and really do a lot of work.
That’s the power of the willow.
If you haven’t tried it I would try it.
I would encourage you to try it for two reasons.
One because it’s fun.
Two, you can do these beautiful marks.
Three, willow is hard.
There is a learning curve.
I ain’t gonna lie.
I’m going to honest with you.
You might as well get started.
You might as well get started because that learning curve is rough.
Even me, I have to constantly practice with it to get good dexterity.
Actually, I’m pretty happy with this—let me get this arm in there.
Let me try this thing.
The paper towel.
Oh yeah, nice and soft and ghosty.
Try to do that with a ballpoint pen or a graphite pencil.
It’s not going to happen.
Let’s see if I can…
you can see it’s going much quicker.
This one I decided to be more painterly.
The other one I was still thinking in charcoal pencil mode.
Now that I’m fully out of charcoal pencil mode and I’m in willow charcoal mode, charcoal
stick mode, I’m able to get these results faster.
It’s only been a few minutes and I’m already at a pretty good point.
I just want to call this foot out.
I’m tempted to call it out but I’m going to leave it alone because I don’t want to
spend too much time here.
I like to do at least one more example.
If you haven’t already, definitely try this at your next life drawing session.
For those of you who do go to life drawing.
There is a beautiful core shadow happening here.
I’m not even going to attempt it with this stick.
It’s going to be all suggestive.
That’s another thing that the willow teaches you,
it’s to suggest, learn how to suggest detail.
Everything you learn in this series so far is really about suggesting.
We’re not taking anything too literal.
We’re not being too quote on quote real by any means.
We’re not being photoreal.
We’re not trying to be photoreal.
We’re only suggesting detail.
Like I say time and time again, I think a lot of times what you leave out looks better
than what you put in.
That’s my philosophy.
The tradition that I learn here in Southern California is very much influenced by this
Russian model and, you know, more about design.
Okay, so now I’m pretty much done.
I’m just going to see if I can add a little bit of detail.
I don’t know if I can really.
The charcoal already, yeah, it’s already built up.
You see that?
What I can do is start to smudge over here.
Get that beautiful half-tone.
God, I love how that looks.
I know I’ll painfully—if I tried to get that with another tool.
God, it’s so painful.
That’s why I really, really love charcoal, especially willow.
It’s just too annoying to get these beautiful tones any other way.
That one kind of lifted it off.
Even the stump has a bit of charcoal on it so it creates a beautiful tone in it of itself.
I’m also dragging it over.
Of course, we lost it but we can always find it.
It’s a combination of both, bringing the stick back.
Giving her little back dimples.
Then I’m going to erase out.
Try to suggest some of that rib detail.
It’s really tough.
This tool is so crude.
I’m sure with some practice I’m able to get that no problem.
And we’re going to use this eraser to kind of break the edge and give me a little
bit of variety in the contour.
But yeah, I think we’re pretty much done with this little sketch.
This beginning of the rendering.
Let me call out that leg and call out this leg.
As you can see, you know where to go from here.
Just refine, refine, refine.
Add detail, add detail.
Draw the slip.
But yeah, as far as the beginning stages, this beginning rendering here is complete.
Now let’s move on to the next example.
Let’s see, alright, got it.
This is a lot of shadow.
This is why I chose this.
What we’ll do is do mostly, mostly—let me make sure he fits in the frame here.
Mostly a big old mass of shadow, but I’m going to,
try to do some work in the shadow. I’m going to try.
I’m going to try to be very efficient.
And that’s it.
Let’s get our big stick and draw this pattern.
So this is a really fun exercise, drawing these big swatches of shadow and see if you
can still get a read.
Oops, I went too far already.
This eraser is a good blending tool.
But that eraser is a little bit greasy, though.
It may give me problems.
I’m a little worried.
It’s a lot of cool nuances in that shadow, that cast shadow shape.
Try to keep it simple and blocky, graphic.
I’m going to call out this leg, or foot, excuse me.
Call it the foot or leg.
It looks cool when you call it out.
Okay, as you can see, it’s not a lot of light to work with.
What I’m going to do here is start to work on the light.
The edge there.
Start to work on the face and really simple, just call it the scumbling.
It’s a painting technique where you just take a little bit of the brush and just go
like that. You’re scumbling.
I’m doing it at the core shadow.
Getting those beautiful soft edges that we love so much.
Actually, what I’m going to do is change the shape.
The light shape.
Going to call out a little bit more light in his, near his figure there.
And the charcoal is already, it’s already done.
I can feel it.
It’s resisting more charcoal so that means it got into the paper, the grooves of the
paper pretty well.
That’s alright. I'll survive.
You can take this pencil.
It has a slightly different texture.
They’re both charcoal, slightly different composition.
You can start to work back into the shadow.
That’s why I wanted to pick this reference so we can see that you
can work back into the shadow.
Of course, you can always work back into the shadow.
You don’t need me to tell you that. You already knew that.
We can do it with willow.
I’d like to get a nice, eggy, glow effect happening in his head.
See if I can get that.
I already lost the beautiful shapes.
I was happy with my shapes.
We can bring back those shapes, of course.
Get some of that half-tone in there.
I’m going to lose a lot these shapes here, but we’ll find them again just like we did
for the face.
Somewhat we’ll find them because really these are all hard edges, so we’ve got that.
Let’s see what else we need to do here.
Like I said earlier, newsprint is not the best paper with this because, as you can see,
you just can’t—it’s not thick enough.
It’s not built to take multiple layers, and that’s, unfortunately, what we need
to do with charcoal.
Think of this as a alla prima painting, almost like a pen drawing.
Just like in pen you kind of only have one shot.
Here we have like one and a half.
It’ll take like one and a half coats before the paper starts to go eh, no more.
It’ll start to resist.
And then, let’s see, let’s work on some contour edges.
I think we’re done here.
Let’s see if I can erase.
There is a really bright highlight here, actually.
I was worried I wouldn’t be able to erase it out because it’s a little too greasy.
Let me see if I can address this nose a little bit, this mouth.
I can’t possibly render the head.
I mean, I can but it’ll take forever.
I just want to get some of the shapes to be more correct, and then this cut in.
Oh, forgot the foot.
I called out the foot.
Need to soften the core shadow.
There you go. That looks good.
Let’s erase this.
One more pass at the other side of the leg.
This is actually part of the cloth there.
Let’s see if I can call out this light shape a little bit more.
I was worried I wouldn’t be able to erase back in.
Then quick touches of half-tone in the sheets, in the fabric.
You can see my tool had a bunch of bumps so that’s not good.
As you can see, no more working in the shadow with the willow.
Let’s see if this pencil will work.
Yeah, actually, if we get a softer pencil it’ll be a little bit more obvious.
It’s only a 2B here.
But, you know, we can add whatever detail we want in this shadow.
I think it’s a good stopping point though.
You can even, the look on the face, I’m not happy with that face,
but everything else looks pretty good.
Alright, so yeah.
That’s the end of this willow demonstration.
As you can see, look at the variety of marks we got.
Look at this incredibly soft edge, soft edge, the lost edges.
Look at how easy we got [sketching noise], able to block it in very quickly.
Remember how long it took to fill in the tone there?
This is pretty rough, but we can make it very smooth as well.
It’s a lot of fun.
I hope you give it a try.
It has a steep learning curve, I’m going to warn you.
But if you make it, you will enjoy it.
And two, remember that you can break it up.
That’s what I do.
Get different sizes.
This is the full-size willow and then a medium and then a small that
we can get a variety of strokes.
Make sure to sharpen your edge to make sure you can draw and also get even more variety
of your strokes when you sharpen it; excuse me, when you sand it down to get a point to
get like a flat-heel edge.
Okay, so that’s it for this lesson.
So, I hope you enjoyed the demonstration.
You got to see a lot of cool techniques with the willow.
If it’s the first time seeing it, you might be surprised they’d be able to do that on
newsprint or to do that in a shorter sort of timed way.
This is exactly how it would work if I’m at the life drawing session and the pose is
limited to 10 or 20 minutes.
Definitely give this a try.
If you can do life drawing.
Give it a try.
If you like the images you saw here, definitely use those images and practice for yourself.
Review this video and follow along.
I would recommend if you’re going to do figures try less complex poses.
If you’re going to do a head make sure that you have a clear light and shadow pattern.
That’s very important.
But definitely don’t worry too much about the drawing.
Focus more on getting good shapes and just practicing the technique.
Remember, the willow has a bit of a learning curve.
It’ll take a while to learn it, but as long as you are able to get the right tips, remember,
you can shave down the tip.
You can be able to get all the effects here.
It just takes practice to get used to the medium.
So, that’s the end of this lesson.
Hope you enjoyed the video.
I want to think you for watching and hope to see you in the next lesson.
So, until next time, take care.