Step-by-Step Charcoal Demo: Clean Gradations

The ability to achieve a highly pristine or “rendered” finish with a charcoal drawing may simply be a matter of planning and thinking ahead. The manner in which line and value are applied in the earliest stages of the drawing process can truly govern the success of the finish.

Essential to a pristine finish are clean gradations in value. By carrying the edges of the shadows past their linear boundaries and adding white over the receptive black, you can achieve soft, smooth transitions that are easy to blend to seamless gradations. See the step-by-step demo below illustrating this blending process.

Image 1: The line (A) illustrates where you intend the separation of light and dark to be.

Image 2:  Apply the initial dark shadow value. Taper the dark value past the light/dark separation line (A), anticipating the white that will be added.

Image 3:  Then make the first pass of white from the top light area towards the lower shadow area. When this white chalk crosses the tapered value line (B), halftones and an initial gradation develop.

Image 4:  Next, make several additional light-pressure passes with the white. With each pass, alter the stroke direction slightly. This step really begins to “clean up” the gradation. A pass or two with the harder charcoal over the dark region smooths out the surface as well.

If you’d like to know more about clean gradations and Waichulis’s five essential rules for achieving a polished, highly rendered finish with charcoal, see his article "Toward a Flawless Finish" in the July/August 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.



Anthony Waichulis won the 2006 certification as a “living master” by the Art Renewal Center and has established a national reputation for his trompe l’oeil paintings. An art instructor at his own atelier, the Waichulis Studio in Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania, he is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Visit www.thewaichulis studio.net to see his art or learn about his atelier.

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