In art school I learned how to draw the figure with charcoal. As an eighteen year old kid I didn’t have much experience with this medium but soon discovered its wonderful flexibility. Basically there are three types of vine charcoal:
Most often I choose to use the medium hardness. It allows me to achieve rich darks with ease and draw hard and soft edges. I start every painting by drawing out my design with charcoal. The reason I use charcoal is because I can wipe it off very easily. If I draw a painting out late in the day I can still adjust the drawing the next morning when I am fresh. It is amazing how a fresh eye can see design flaws. If you use paint to draw it dries and leaves you little flexibility to adjust. Do not be afraid of the charcoal showing through in your painting. It will disappear once you start applying paint over it.
Of course, a pencil is my other favorite drawing tool. Did you know the history of the pencil goes all the way back to Roman times? I read they were called styluses and used lead cores. Who knew!
My all-time favorite pencil hardness is 8B. I can get amazing darks with this pencil, plus sketch very soft values. I found the 2B will not do the job as well as my super hero 8B. If I can get my hands on a 9B I will grab those quickly too. The only thing to note is the softer the lead, the more easily it will break. I think it is worth the trial and error though. When you frequent your favorite art store and you do see an 8B or 9B I suggest stocking up because they are usual out of these. I have a started to order boxes online so I am not without.
These are my faves, but by all means do not stop drawing if you can’t locate these exact tools. I have used pens in a bind. The point to strive for is: always build on your skills, learn from your mistakes and be eager to fulfill your goals. I live my art career knowing it is a marathon, not a sprint.