Charcoal is one of the oldest drawing materials, dating back nearly 30,000 years. The charcoal used by artists is a form of dry art medium, and is made of ground organic materials. These materials are held together by a wax binder, or can sometimes be produced by eliminating the oxygen inside the material.

Using charcoal produces a deep black mark, brilliant for bold and expressive studies. Using your finger, charcoal can be easily smudged and blended, making it a great medium for creating a sense of depth. There are a number of great artists who work with charcoal, as it is such a versatile material to use. In this blog we’ll talk about five of the best charcoal artists (in our opinion of course), and discuss how they use charcoal to achieve their work. Read on to discover some famous charcoal artists.

Dennis Creffield

Dennis Creffield (1931-2018) was a British artist, with much of his work held in collections such as the Tate Gallery, Arts Council of England, and many more. In 1985, Creffield was commissioned by the Arts Council of England to draw every cathedral in England, which as you can imagine took a fair bit of work. All of these drawings are deep, bold and expressive, depicting the iconic vertical structures of English architecture. If you wish to view Creffield’s ‘English Cathedrals’ collection, the pieces can be found in the Tate Gallery and Hayward Gallery, London.

Durham: The Central Tower by Dennis Creffield

Source: Tate

 Käthe Kollwitz

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was a German artist, who saw much suffering throughout her life. Kollwitz depicted her experiences through expressive art, which included the use of charcoal. Living in Berlin throughout the first World War, the events of the time prompted her to depict her struggles with hunger and poverty through art. Kollwitz was primarily a graphic artist, confining her work to black and white imagery. The world that she depicts in her art is veiled in shadow, and rarely touches any sight of colour. As such, it is no wonder that charcoal was a frequently used medium of hers throughout her work. Kollwitz’s art makes such incredible statements, whilst only using bold strokes of light and dark charcoal. She mostly uses charcoal in portrait pieces of work.

Home Worker by Käthe Kollwitz

Source: Pinterest

Leon Kossoff

Leon Kossoff (1926-2019) was a British figurative painter, who was mostly known for his portraits and cityscapes of London. His charcoal drawings are dark, with deep shadows and thick lines depicting the smokey atmosphere of London throughout 1952. His portraits are also dark, with bold smudge marks and thick black outlines. Kossoff uses cross-hatching to build up tone, which is fairly noticeable in much of his artwork. 

Dalston Junction by Leon Kossoff

Source: Offer Waterman

Frank Auerbach

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) is a German born painter, who has been naturalised as a British citizen since 1947. Auerbach is well known as a figurative painter, who focuses much of his work on portraits and city landscapes. Much of Auerbach’s paintwork is bold and striking, with neutral use of colour and tone. However, his charcoal drawings and painting depict something a lot lighter. In these pieces, Auerbach uses watercolour as well as charcoal to create faint, delicate illustrations.

Head of E.O.W by Frank Auerbach

Source: Tate

Henry Moore

Henry Moore (1898-1986) was an English sculptor and draughtsman who was born in Hertfordshire, England. Much of Moore’s work was focused on the human figure, predominantly recurring images of mother and child. As an official war artist, most of Moore’s charcoal drawings depicted people inside bomb shelters during the London Blitz. 

Sleeping Mother and Child by Henry Moore

Source: Arts Council Collection

Charcoal is a versatile artist tool which can be used to suit a wide variety of artwork styles. If you are interested in purchasing your own charcoal, be sure to take a look at our wide range of discounted charcoals today. Whether you’re looking for carbon pencils or a beginners charcoal set, we supply it!

Learn about more artists in our feature blogs:

Featured Artist Molly Lambourn

Featured Artist Sarah Hill

Featured Artist Amy Hey

Featured Artist Paul Benbow

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