How to Draw Mountains and Rivers in Charcoal

How to Draw a Mountain and River in Charcoal Pencil
How to Draw a Mountain and River in Charcoal Pencil

Mountains and rivers can offer the artist dramatic subjects to draw in charcoal pencils. 

From the depiction of rugged snow-capped peaks to the conveying of reflections in water,? Charcoal pencils can produce effective results.

How to draw a mountain and river in Charcoal? To draw a mountain in Charcoal pencils, you will need to complete the following steps:

  • Assemble equipment and materials 
  • Select a scene to draw
  • Organizing your composition
  • Draw the horizon line
  • Sketching the mountains
  • Drawing the river
  • Middle ground elements
  • Foreground elements
  • Quality of Charcoal pencils
  • Light and dark contrast
  • Finishing Touches to your landscape

Assembling Equipment and Materials 

Drawing equipment can vary from task to task, but to create a good quality landscape in Charcoal pencils, you will need to organize the following items.

Good quality cartridge paper. Windsor and Newton cartridge sketchbooks will provide you with a good quality paper which is durable enough to take the rigors that arise when working in Charcoal. 

Which Charcoal pencils to use? Good quality charcoal pencils will come when purchased with several useful items.

Blending stump, eraser, and a tinted white charcoal pencil will aid you in producing effective drawing in Charcoal.

Blending equipment. These are invaluable for blending Charcoal and creating different textures and shadows.

Additional equipment worth using on location.

If drawing on location or at home, a right size drawing board is also a necessity, especially if you are drawing on location.

Organize Your Composition 

To create the very best drawing possible, you can get moving in the right direction. There are several simple systems you can use.

The production of a successful composition you need a clear approach, so you here are some ideas.

The viewfinder is an old trick that can be easily used to analyze the scene in front of you.

Your mobile phone can be quickly employed to scan the landscape in front.

The grid function is also an excellent way of centering on a prominent feature in the landscape. This could be a mountain peak or a tree.

A harmonious composition will result in a much more successful drawing.

Use your phone to take several digital images of the landscape. You can select from them at a later stage, drawing inspiration from the best ones.

L shaped composition. Emphasizing the or distributing the importance of the picture to one side of the image is also an effective method for fashioning the different elements of your drawing.

A river, tree, or a mountain-peak can be drawn to the side of your drawing by using the rule of thirds.

Draw the Horizon Line

Where to situate the horizon. As a fundamental rule never draw the horizon dead central to the page. Drawing the horizon above or below the central part of the picture plane will result in a much more pleasing arrangement when drawing.

Diagonal Composition

The easiest way to create a diagonal composition is to slope the horizon from one edge of the page to the next. This is a simple but effective way the produce a more dynamic presentation and a sense of movement in your arrangement of pictorial elements on the page. 

Sketching the Outlines of The Mountain

Drawing the mountain. Take your charcoal pencil and begin by drawing and outlining the top of the mountain with faint loosely drawn lines.

Focus on sketching the outline shapes and the jagged peaks of the mountain. Some will appear sharp and triangular with others looking more rounded with softer rounded peaks and edges.

The form of the mountain will appear more three dimensional when you begin to draw lines which describe the shape of the mountain. This is easily achieved by drawing additional lines from the peaks down to the center.

Immediately the mountain will appear to transform from a flat shape to a three-dimensional form.

Light and dark contrast. Focus on the light areas by outlining the areas of snow and rock formations lightly in pencil.

Take a charcoal pencil and add dark areas of shadow onto the edges and across the tops of the mountains.

Next, using your finger of a blending tool, you can begin softening these lines and shadows and blending the Charcoal into the surface of the mountain shapes you and outlined.

You can blend the shadows further by graduating the shadows and leaves spaces white.

Drawing the River

Taking into account what you have learned about organizing the elements in your composition. 

Make sure that the river is drawn to the side of the picture plane.

Starting at the horizon line, begin to sketch a relaxed line which will be drawn depicting the outer edge of the river.

You can then begin to draw a line which loosely follows the first. The breadth between the banks of the river will increasingly become more extended following the foreshortening.

With the edges of the river established,  focus upon sketching the and drawing the surface of the water.

By quickly rendering horizontal lines across the surface of the river, these lines will begin to suggest the surface and the reflections on the surface of the river. 

Progress onto applying a  white tint in the spaces on the river.

Continue to refine the surface of the water with a blending stick or a loose rag. Finishing touches such as improving the shadows tints and be refined and work on this stage in the drawing.

Middle Ground Elements

The features of your drawing, which will populate the midground of your drawing will provide a visual link between the background and foreground features in the picture.

Hills and smaller sections of the mountains can be sketched at the base of the mountain on the horizon.

Once you have sketched, the various elements begin to add more definite marks with your charcoal pencil.

Light and Dark Contrast 

Alternate between light, medium, and dark grades of charcoal pencil.

Foreground Elements 

Slopes and hills in the foreground of the drawing can be drawn with a slightly drawing level of value to create the illusion of space. Texture in the form of rock and stones can also be drawn in the foreground area, this is also an excellent way to add additional detail and visual interest in your drawing. 

Quality of Charcoal Pencils 

Winsor and Newton Charcoal Pencil Set is a good option if you are looking for good quality Charcoal. The pencils come equipped with three shades of charcoal dark, medium, and light pencils. Plus a white charcoal pencil and blending stick.

This charcoal pencil set also has a basic vinyl eraser and two sticks of compressed Charcoal. 

Finishing Touches to Your Landscape

Once you feel you have completed drawing the different sections of your landscape. How it is time to pause and take a long hard look and the overall image. 

One section of the drawing may lack sufficient detail, or a particular area of the shadow may require further blending or refining. You can add tone to the sky and use the white pencil to highlight the edges of the mountain peaks. 

This is an excellent means by which to add contrast to your drawing by creating a dramatic background to your drawing.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and that you have found it the practical information detailed here useful. For more information on how to draw landscapes, please visit the landscapes category at


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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How to Draw Mountains and Rivers in Charcoal