A Beginner's Favorite
Charcoal is a beginner's favorite and a great material to use if you're just starting out with art. Charcoal comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but my recommendation would be to purchase willow charcoal. Willow charcoal is very thin charcoal and is easily breakable. The great thing about this type of charcoal is that it comes in large packs, and is typically inexpensive. Charcoal can be bought at any art supply store.
When using charcoal, make sure to have an eraser and a towel or napkin at hand. This is because charcoal is very messy. Expect to get your hands dirty. Although you may find yourself making many unwanted smudges on your work when working with charcoal, it is very easy to erase. A simple eraser will get the job done, but art stores sell special "gummy," or moldable erasers specifically for charcoal users.
The best surface to work on when using charcoal is smooth paper. At art stores, you will find a variety of types of papers with different names based on their texture and thickness, but these are often sold separately and might be pricey. As a beginner, you're probably going to want to experiment a bit, so your best bet is to buy a moderately priced art pad. One of my favorites is the Strathmore Bristol smooth art pad.
If you've never used charcoal before, you'll probably be surprised at how easily it blends. This is a great tool to have while drawing. It will give your pieces more depth and will allow you to achieve more tones. If you're not familiar with the blending technique, here is a simple video tutorial on how to get started with it.
As you can see, the instructor in the video used what she called a "blending tool" while working on her art piece. This works just fine, and can be purchased at any local art supply store. Your own fingers, however, can be used just as well. This is my preferred method. Best part? It's completely free.
Because charcoal is typically a beginner's preferred art medium, the subject used is typically a still life. A still life is a set of objects. Popular subjects for a still life are fruit and kitchen containers such as bottles or vases. These objects typically make for elegant art pieces, and the fact that they are simple household items means you can have them right in front of you while you draw.