Make a Start in Art: The Basics of Tone in Charcoal

Make a Start in Art: The Basics of Tone in Charcoal

Rosa Roberts, WHSmith Resident Art Expert –

In this video you can learn how to add shade to a finished line drawing of a still life in charcoal. The principles you learn can be applied to any drawing in any medium. You will be taught to recognise the lights, mediums and darks and how to make the drawing look 3D by shading the background as well (I call this secondary shading).

Once you understand how light gives objects volume and how comparing the shade of an object to the background just next to it helps to make it stand out from the background, you will really be able to make drawings that leap off the page and start to look real.

Using both charcoal and the eraser on the end of your pencil in this way is a fun and different way of going about shading. You are essentially using your rubber as a mark making tool as well as the charcoal which can give an interesting look to the drawing and makes you think about adding touches of light where the light is hitting something.

You can use this video to continue the line drawing you made using the previous video, or just watch it to get an understanding of how light and shading work, and physical tips to help you see light better in the first place.

When getting started at home focus at first on getting the lights, mediums and darks filled in on each object consecutively. You can start by drawing around the different areas of tone if that helps you, you can think of it like a shading plan. It’s also good to start having a look at the shadows an object leaves on a surface it’s resting on. You can draw around the outline of this first too if you like to see if it looks about right. Be patient when you are starting to shade the background, it can be tricky to get the hang of but will make all the difference once you do.


To practise tone at home you’ll need to stock up on charcoal and a blank piece of white paper.

Once you’ve mastered tone, move onto our next video; Make a Start in Art: Lemon in Charcoal
For more art tips you can browse our selection of #MakeAStartInArt videos here.

If you’d like to find out more about Rosa and her background as an artist/art tutor, then don’t forget to check out our Rosa Roberts Profile.