1. Initial Designs

What you need:

  • Charcoal stick
  • Sketchpad paper
  • Sand paper
  • Putty rubber
How to do it:

Sharpen a charcoal stick as you did for the charcoal Breathing Line exercise. We’ll be using the same kind of lines as we produced in the Breathing Line exercise for this exercise.

Step 1

Begin by drawing a few right angles on a sheet of sketch pad paper in charcoal.


Remember to draw smoothly from the shoulder. Use the line sensitivity you have developed through your breathing line practice to make these lines as well-formed and even as you can.

Practice this until you can produce smooth and elegant lines. Even a simple right angle can be nicely drawn or not, depending on how you approach it. Always try to create beauty with every mark you make.

Step 2

Once you’re comfortable drawing the opposing lines, try adding a third, straight line in order to form a triangle and so soften the abruptness of the meeting of the vertical and horizontal.


Here’s a demo of this stage. Notice that the drawing is done slowly.

Try various shapes and angles.


Step 3

Now redraw some of the angles, softening the transition lines by drawing curves instead of straight lines.



If you find it hard to produce smoothly curved lines with the charcoal, try doing some repeat practice with curved lines on separate sheets, like this.


Make these designs as neat and as smooth as you can. Remember to strive for beauty with every mark you make.

Step 4

Once you’re comfortable with this and are producing smooth and well-formed angles, begin to vary the designs in order to create corner ornaments.

Thinking of them as ironwork hanging basket brackets designs can be helpful, the lines we create with charcoal lend themselves to these kinds of designs.

You can look on Google for inspiration, or create your own designs. Make sure to keep them very simple to begin with. If the designs become too complex, you’ll struggle to feel the harmony. A few simple lines carefully drawn can carry more beauty than a complex but less well spaced design.

Here’s a few examples I found on Google images searching for ‘corner ornament’, together with simplified versions done with charcoal. They might help to spark some ideas. There are many more possible designs so do your own research online and choose ideas for designs that appeal to you. Don’t be tempted to make the designs too complex. We’re trying to create  a simple beauty and balance at this stage.

You might be tempted to measure with a ruler to get these designs symmetrical. I’d advise against it. Why? Because the point of this exercise is to stretch our sensitivity to spacing and design. If we rely on a ruler for measuring, we will be doing less judging by eye. It’s this judging by eye that is at the core of this exercise, and what makes it so effective at building core design skills.








Don’t rush through your designs. Each one is an opportunity to stretch your design muscle a little further.  Produce a lot of different designs, taking care over each one. Try a few variations of them.

Here are a few more examples of simple corner ornament designs done in charcoal, built up from basic triangles and then developed and ornamented a little further.



In the next stage of this exercise, we’ll take one of these designs and develop it further again, but we won’t be adding complexity. We’ll be attempting to make the most balanced, well spaced version of it we can in charcoal.

Proceed to the next stage.