I thought this might be kind of fun to do. A place where people can chat about materials and swap suggestions/ask questions and things like that. I'd particularly LOVE to hear a bit from the digital media people. That's an area I know next to nothing about and it's not very intuitive for me so I'd love to hear some pointers they'd have for someone interested in just messing around. I guess I'll start with just some things I've learned about charcoal that would have REALLY helped me out if I'd discovered early on. Maybe there's someone interested in trying out charcoal and they'll find it a bit useful. Charcoal: Intro: I definitely recommend trying charcoal! Not many people use it compared to pencils but it's a load of fun and much quicker than pencil. Charcoal really feels more like painting than pencils and is a very fluid, sometimes messy medium to use. It has a matt finish unlike pencils which is also nice. Recommended material: General's brand charcoal pencils and General's willow sketching vine charcoal. Recommended: at least an HB, 2B, and 4B and a white pencil. 6B is also useful but you can get away without it. Also: a kneaded eraser, blending sticks (they look like this http://www.ipmsstockholm.org/magazine/2004/05/images/tech_pastels_03.jpg), sandpaper and an exacto knife are also helpful for sharpening the pencils and keeping the blenders clean. And fixative too or else when you're done your picture will smudge. Note: The sets of generals charcoal pencils they sell at stores actually DON'T have the HB included. HB is the hardest charcoal pencils and are pretty much what you'll use for most your picture. The rest are for darker areas. So make sure you get those separately. I bought my first set of charcoal pencils and didn't realize there was no HB, which was problematic. Tips (aka things I had to learn the hard way lol): 1. Sketch everything in the vine charcoal. Make sure you get things laid out right with the vine charcoal before adding anything heavier. Vine is very light and soft and erases really well! Sketching in pencil sometimes leaves it to where you can still see the initial sketch. Since charcoal isn't shiny the pencil will sometimes stick out like a sore thumb through your final drawing. So I really lay everything in with just vine charcoal until I'm pretty satisfied with it. The HB will erase okay and the darker stuff (2B and up) not too well. I had no idea about vine charcoal at all until relatively recently and it is immensely helpful. It is also very good for laying down the first layer of everything. With the blending sticks it smooths out very nicely and you can cover an area very quickly. 2. Draw as much with your kneaded eraser as you do with your pencils! Erasers in charcoal are not just about fixing mistakes, they're also something to draw with. I don't know why this never dawned on me at first but I would try to just use the white to lighten things up. My pictures ended up way way way dark and lost a lot of depth that way. You can mold your eraser to just about any shape and draw on the charcoal with it. I tend to lay in a general shadow then come in and add detail with the eraser. 3. Use the white for just the absolute highlights. (It's also very handy if you mess up and can't erase your darks in an area. Also very useful for very fine white detail). But don't count on it for your whites. Try to keep most of your whites just the paper showing through. 4. Buy good charcoal. I have had really good luck with general's brand and that's what the professional I took the workshop with uses. I have used other brands but have run into a lot of them that have a hard spot in the middle of a stick and it will really ruin your drawing trying to draw with a bad piece of charcoal. You can get the general's brand at Hobby Lobby. If you do end up with a bad stick- toss it and buy a new one. Um... that's about all I can think of at the moment! I really hope to hear from other people about what they like to use!