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I'm about to buy a new set of charcoal, but I found vine and willow charcoal sticks, which I've never seen before. Before I buy this charcoal set I need to know the difference.

I'd like to ask people who have used these types of charcoal before, what beneficial characteristics do they bring to the table, and in what ways are the experience of using them different? How does the magnitude of difference compare to the difference in cost? Are there certain kinds of results that are possible (or significantly easier) only with these kinds of charcoal?

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    The last part of the question, about charcoal on canvas, is really a totally separate question that should be asked as another question so it can receive a dedicated response. Readers interested in either question will generally be interested in charcoal, but combining these questions will make it harder for them to find their specific target question and its answers. – fixer1234 Feb 9 at 18:07
  • You can make your own charcoal for testing, many different kinds of wood available, you just need a safe place to do it (and the laws of the place should allow open fire for most methods.) – Willeke Feb 9 at 19:15
  • Charcoal is pretty inexpensive and nothing will inform you more about the qualities of these materials than direct experience. You should just try them out. – rebusB Mar 4 at 1:43
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You won't notice a lot of differences between using vine and willow charcoal.
Vine (of the grape) tends to be slightly darker in tone, is physically a little harder than willow, and I believe it has a somewhat finer structure. Vine is thinner and usually a little straighter than willow. The latter can come in a larger variety of thicknesses, which can be convenient when wanting to make broad strokes. Willow also tends to have more knots, which can have adverse effects while drawing (e.g. sudden changes in hardness and breaking in unpredictable ways).
Note that these characteristics can differ even between brands (different production processes, different climes, different wood species, different storage, &c.).

I suppose that historically vine charcoal was used more often in southern Europe (such as Italy during the renaissance), whereas in the north people had more access to willow.


If you can get your hands on it, it might be worthwhile looking into 'Nitram' charcoal.
I have no experience with it - I actually just found out about it - but it is supposed to have deeper colours while being as easy to erase as regular charcoal, and it comes in different hardnesses (H, HB, and B). It is easier to sharpen to a finer point for detailed work than regular charcoal types. It also leaves less dust, which might be especially appealing to people with allergies or sensitivities.

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