Should You Mix Acrylics With Charcoal?


Should you Mix Acrylics With Charcoal?

Should you mix acrylics with charcoal? This lesson will answer that question by giving you some tips on when to add charcoal to your acrylic art. 

Keep in mind there are no absolutes in art and this is just one opinion. If you are new to mixing mediums this should be helpful by answering some common questions. Use it as a springboard to begin your creative mixed media journey.

Demo One - Left Side

This demo will illustrate how adding charcoal in the beginning will present a set of problems. When you apply charcoal to start a painting you present a few potential problems right away. That’s because when you apply acrylics over charcoal you will taint the brush. So the charcoal will blend or flake into the tip and belly of the brush.

The problem here is most artists don’t clean their brush properly when this happens. You have to understand that each time you drag your brush into charcoal it’s best to clean your brush before adding another stroke to your art. The charcoal that’s left on your brush when you paint over it will taint the layers you add after that until you clean your brush thoroughly.

The other problem that not washing your brush presents is it will invade the other colors on your palette when you start reaching into it for more paint. This happens because when you dip your tainted brush that’s covered in charcoal into fresh paint and start mixing on the palette it now ruins the freshness of all the colors. Now your entire palette becomes a big problem if you are trying to avoid muddy art.

The Solution

Clean your brush when you apply a layer of paint over charcoal. This needs to be done each time it happens.

You also need to keep clean reservoirs of water handy because eventually the water becomes muddy and will eventually become a problem as you clean your brushes.

Demo Two - Right Side

This demo illustrates how adding a layer, or two, of acrylics to your art before you introduce charcoal can help you avoid creating muddy work. By working the acrylics only and bringing the painting to a middle stage of completion eliminates the risk of mud – simple :)

Once you have some ‘meat on the bone’ then you can introduce charcoal. This gives you a better chance in creating crisp colors and allowing the charcoal to become more prominent in your artwork.

But you still have to respect charcoal for what it is. Even when you apply charcoal at later stages you have to clean your brush each time you apply a layer over it.


Combining charcoal into your work is a great way to add interest and movement to your art. But you have to respect the medium for what it is – messy. This lesson should help you get more control over using charcoal so that you gain more success when using it.

Your Goal

Take a simple composition and build it up with a few layers of acrylics. Once you have it in the middle stages then add the charcoal. Be sure that you clean your brush each time you mix your paint with the charcoal and this will give you fresh and vibrant colors. A little gray is okay – so long as that’s your intention and not the result of losing control over your mediums.

When To Add Charcoal to Acrylics

Free TipsRobert Joyner