Black crumbly drawing material made of carbon and often used for sketching and under-drawing for paintings, although can also be used to create more finished drawings

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  • Leon Kossoff, 'Self-Portrait. Verso: Untitled (Two Figures)' 1967

    Leon Kossoff
    Self-Portrait. Verso: Untitled (Two Figures) 1967
    Charcoal on paper
    support: 763 x 556 mm
    Presented by Jenny Stein 1986 Leon Kossoff

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  • Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, 'Figure Study for 'The Rose Bower' (Briar Rose Series). Verso: Study of the Head of Merlin for 'The Beguiling of Merlin'' circa 1872-7

    Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt
    Figure Study for 'The Rose Bower' (Briar Rose Series). Verso: Study of the Head of Merlin for 'The Beguiling of Merlin' circa 1872-7
    Charcoal and pencil on paper
    support: 212 x 235 mm
    Bequeathed by A.N. MacNicholl 1916

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  • Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 'Study for 'Returning to the Trenches'' 1914-15

    Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
    Study for 'Returning to the Trenches' 1914-15
    Charcoal and crayon on paper
    support: 146 x 206 mm
    Purchased 1959 Tate

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Charcoal is traditionally made from thin peeled willow twigs which are heated without the presence of oxygen. This produces black crumbly sticks, which leave microscopic particles in the paper or textile fibres, producing a line that is dense at the pressure point, but more diffuse or powdery at the edges. The overall result is less precise than hard graphite pencils, so charcoal is suited to freer studies. Charcoal smudges easily and is often protected with a sprayed fixative.

In the twentieth century a processed version was developed, called compressed charcoal.