Charcoal pencils come in a range of hardness, but I can say that I have never enjoyed using the hard pencils. The soft pencils are so much more flexible and easy to work with. I recommend General’s charcoal pencils.
To sharpen a charcoal pencil, do not put the pencil in an electric or manual pencil sharpener. The charcoal inside the pencil is so fragile that it will always break. Instead, use a utility knife or razor blade to sharpen the charcoal pencil by hand. Position your thumb behind the knife or blade, and push it upwards on the pencil to slice off shavings of the pencil.
Charcoal pencils should be reserved for the final stages of a drawing, when you need to articulate small areas and details. Frequently, I see students starting with charcoal pencil far too early, and they start working on details before the fundamentals of the drawing have been established. Charcoal pencils can also be effective for cross-hatching techniques, which can be layered and embedded on top of tonal areas. The portrait below has a significant amount of cross-hatching which has been done with charcoal pencil over a layer of vine charcoal tone.
Art Supply Tips
Charcoal drawing supply set
erasers for charcoal drawing
white plastic erasers
layering & mixing charcoal