When laying eyes on a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, one's first reaction is often awe. Once the awe settles, one's second reaction is often how on earth did the artist do that? While infinite factors play in to creating a beautifully satisfying drawing (proper measuring, composition, gesture, form, light...), it is imperative to set these factors into motion with the proper materials; and when using these materials, one should prepare them in an exacting manner; and for a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, it behooves one to have finely-sharpened charcoal.
The charcoal drawings from the Aristides Atelier are made using H (hard) and HB (medium) and, on occasion, B (soft) vine charcoal. While Savoire Faire Nitram charcoals were favored by many, they have since gone out of business; at present, new students favor Prismacolor, Grumbacher, or Winsor and Newton. Here, Katt displays her unsharpened sticks of Prismacolor vine charcoal.
Unsharpened Vine Charcoal
In order to sharpen your charcoal, you will need a sheet of 220 grit sandpaper. Many students find it helpful to cut this paper down to a smaller, more manageable size. If you like, you can glue your sandpaper to a small piece of masonite, as you will want to have it against a hard surface when you are sharpening your charcoal. When using this method, make sure that your sandpaper and masonite are cut to the same size.
If you have not glued your sandpaper to a masonite board, the edge of any hard surface is suitable. Place your stick of charcoal flat against the surface of the sandpaper, being careful not to press too hard-- this could result in your delicate vine charcoal snapping in half-- and gently sharpen as you rotate the charcoal to give even treatment to each side. Bear in mind that this is a somewhat slow process; you want your charcoal to slowly build up to a needle-fine point and long taper. Again, try not to put pressure on your charcoal while sharpening, as this may cause the point to snap.
Sanding Seen from Above
Sanding Seen from Down Low
Viola! Your charcoal is sharpened and ready to go. You will notice that the stick has a very long taper-- this is ultimately time-saving when you are mid-drawing, as you do not have to sharpen these sticks as frequently. It is suggested that you sharpen as many sticks of charcoal as possible prior to working on your drawing; this allows for more time spent on beautiful rendering and less time on sharpening.
And, lastly, what should one do with those tiny little charcoal nubs? Don't toss them just yet. Katt has come up with an ingenious method that allows for one to salvage the last bits of charcoal and make them perfectly use-able for rendering. Simply use electrical or artist's tape to secure them to a small bamboo skewer (you can cut the skewer for a comfortable length) and sharpen accordingly. These bamboo skewers can be purchased at most grocery stores.