Two Tips For Using Charcoal With Acrylics

Two Tips For Using Charcoal With Acrylics

Two Tips For Using Charcoal With Acrylics

Two Tips For Using Charcoal With Acrylics - Overview

Here are two simple tips for those that love to use charcoal with acrylics but end up with a muddy mess. It's easy to do and we have all been there. There are a few solutions that will help you get started with mastering your charcoal skills.

The Mistake

The common mistake for most beginners is to add charcoal too early in a painting. Some even use it to layout the composition which can easily become a mess. This problem escalates as the painting progresses with each layer. If you think about it a painting is a series of layers, one on top of the other. So if you add the charcoal too early you can see how the proceeding layers will be tainted by the charcoal.

Here's Why

Each time you stroke your acrylics over charcoal it leaves some charcoal on the brush. Typically artists will go straight to the palette without cleaning the brush for more paint. Now you have another issue, the acrylics on the palette become tainted with ashy, flakey charcoal. In no time at all the entire palette becomes invaded with charcoal and your art is left gray and colorless.

The image below illustrates what one stroke over charcoal can do to your art. This presents problems as you move forward with more layers.

Charcoal Tips Detail 1

Here Are A Few Easy Tips To Help You Out

1. First and foremost you must clean your brush when you apply acrylics over charcoal. This should be done every time and not just once in a while. If you apply a layer of paint over charcoal clean your brush. And don't forget to change your water constantly because the murky water will eventually become a problem. Hey, it's a messy medium so that's part of the deal.

2. Apply the charcoal when the painting has several layers on it. Easy right? Get a little meat on the bone and then add the charcoal. This way there's less chance in creating mud since you only have a layer or two to apply to finish the piece. Much better chances than adding the charcoal in layer one, or two.

As I mentioned before a painting is a series of layers, one over the other. Think about adding charcoal in the mid to late stages. This will keep you from having to add multiple layers over it.

A few examples of acrylics and charcoal playing nicely.

Notice how the drawing, or charcoal, is a key component of the subject. So it has a role to play and not just applied for the sake of using it.

Also note the charcoal seems to be on top of the painting but not 100%. This is because it was carefully added in the later stages and I was mindful to clean my brushes when painting over the charcoal.


While there are no absolutes in art there are certainly situation we can avoid when combining mediums with charcoal. It's takes a lot of experience to create successful mixed media art and you have to know what you are using at all times. Once you have some good experiences using charcoal you can start to experiment applying it at different stages, or layers of a painting.

By adding charcoal in the mid to later stages your can avoid some of the risk you run of graying your art. Start here if you are new or are having ongoing issues with using charcoal. This will help you create a positive connection to the medium and you will be on your way to mastering the medium.

BTW, I use Generals Compressed Charcoal and you can purchase them here.

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Robert Joyner