Julia Malcolm - pet portrait and wildlife artist

Charcoal portraits by Julia Malcolm

Portrait of a cat in charcoal


This medium is probably one of the oldest forms of artists' media and was used by our ancestors on cave walls. Charcoal is now made from harder tree branches which are about 5mm thick. Once burnt, these charcoal 'twigs' are a perfect tool to draw with. Charcoal portraits are similar to black and white photos, although there is not the same variation in grey tone. It is strictly speaking black charcoal on white paper.

Portrait of a dog in charcoal


Charcoal suits the more solid and darker coated animals such as black dogs and/or dark horses. Short and long haired coats work equally well. However, if there is little variation in coat colour, for example the animal is all tan or cream coloured, then this type of coat works well with graphite where subtle shades of grey are possible.

Portrait of a Hector dolphin in charcoal

Hector dolphin

There is no hard and fast rule for black and white (charcoal) versus grey tones (graphite). It depends on what suits your tastes, your home and your budget. I use artist grade acid free white paper which has a maximum size of 65x50cm. A reverse of the charcoal theme is white on black. Using a white pastel the animal can be drawn on black paper and is best suited for light or white coloured pets. If working on a full body portrait I will shade under the animal to give the appearance that he/she is lying or sitting on a surface. I can add different surfaces such as cloth, grass, silk, a box or anything else you would like.

Portrait of a Rottweiler in charcoal