Using a charcoal pencil is harder than it looks, whether you are trying to create a cartoon character or trying to draw a real person.
There are lot of times when an artist will buy a set of charcoals even if he’s an ink artist. He may do this out of curiosity or perhaps is simply replacing a graphite pencil with a charcoal stick for making doodles, and then when he starts to draw with it, the whole thing smudges off, the whole paper turns gray, and then he tries the harder one and learns that he couldn’t even sharpen a charcoal pencil properly.
This is because charcoal is more like a pastel than a pencil, and its sensitivity increases as the charcoal gets softer. A compressed charcoal pencil is labeled H and B, which stand for hardness and blackness. The higher the B score, the softer it gets, and that’s how it goes for hardness too, and some charcoal pencils are simply labeled with soft, medium, and hard.
There are more kinds of charcoals aside from the charcoal pencils. There are uncompressed charcoals available, most of which come from willow sticks and vines. They can be erased very easily and have a dark gray tone.
Another one is compressed charcoal sticks. They produce darker tones. These are usually thick edgy sticks which come in a variety of shades.
For you to know how to draw with charcoals, you have to learn what comes first and what to do from there.
So first, you must make an outline of your drawing with very light shades. If this is a problem for you, you can always start with regular pencil for outlines and indentions, because these lines will be overlapped later on anyway.
When you already have your outline, make indentions for the shades. You can use hatching or simply make an outline of the shades, so basically this is contour lining.
Now if you used hatched lines, you will probably produce a rough textured image. To achieve this, smudge the lines carefully with your finger, or use cotton if you prefer. Rub it until the lining patterns of your line shading turn hardly distinguishable. Redo your cross hatching if you want to strengthen the shade and just repeat the smudging afterwards.
If you make an outline of your shade patterns, it means you intend to make a soft textured 3D looking image. You will be using the wide points of your charcoal and the stained cotton. Anything you used to smudge your markings, because you will be playing with black, gray, and fading tones until you achieve the contrast you want. Do the heavy shades first, and I will advise you to use a cotton to dab the dark tones and by the use of that stained cotton, you can achieve your gray tone, just go over your drawing at least three times and remember to redefine the portions that should be obvious to easily distinguish the drawing.
To finalize your drawing, redefine the light shades or highlights by carefully erasing this portion. Expose the bright color of the paper to achieve proper light tones. Having a kneaded eraser will make this finalizing easier rather than a regular eraser for graphite pencils. Do not use rough or hard erasers, because it might ruin your paper and leave a mark that can’t be undone.
In performing these steps properly and in order, you will have no problem handling it. Remember to keep practicing all the time.