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Charcoal and mixed media portrait step by step painting tutorial

Charcoal and mixed media portrait on paper: Beehive

You might be familiar with charcoal from life drawing classes, it is a great medium to use for life drawing short poses because it is easy to smudge, take off and quick to add. You also get a very dark black that would be difficult to obtain with graphite.

Charcoal is also very well suited for more detailed portraits. I wanted to try it in a mixed media painting that would be done on paper monted on a 48 x 48 inches board.

Here are the steps I took:


I bought a roll of watercolor paper that has a width of 51 inches so I am able to mount it on a 48 x 48 inches board.



Mounting watercolor paper on board.

You might also be interested in : Mounting watercolor paper on board

I let the paper dry overnight before trimming the sides with a cutter.

The portait in Charcoal


I am working with charcoal powder and brushes


And with charcoal sticks for darker areas and details


I start working on the portrait using big brushes for the powder and a charcoal stick for details.


Charcoal powder and brushes


The charcoal stick is convenient to draw details like eyebrows, lashes…


Building the portrait layer by layer.


img_4772 Sometimes it is easier to look at the drawing upside down to compare it to your reference picture.

A kneadable eraser is very convenient to take off some of the extra charcoal.


Brushes are also convenient to lift off a bit of charcoal from the paper

Working on the background with fluid acrylics


I want to start working on the background patterns with fluid acrylics before the painting is done because I want some of the patterns to be visible through the areas on the edge of the hair. I already delimited the area where the hair will be with a transparent layer of charcoal.img_9006

I am mixing up a few fluid acrylic washes to start working on the background pattern.


With a flat brush I am drawing a variety of circles with each of the colors I mixed.


I am painting the patterns also through the edges of the hair area.


I am working with each color, one at a time, painting a series of circular shapesimg_9017

I like that this pattern has a retro feel.

Finishing the portrait


Once the background has been painted, I am working on the hair, drawing the beehive hairdo.

I am also drawing a few charcoal bees img_9026-1



I am finishing the painting by spraying a layer of fixative and brushing on some Gamvar varnish.

It's done !⠀ Slice of Life, beehive⠀ Charcoal, acrylic, pastel on paper mounted on board⠀ 48 x 48 inches⠀ ⠀ Link in profile ⠀ ⠀ #Portrait #NorthVancouver #NorthVan #yvrart #yvrarts #charcoal #Mixedmedia #bees #beehive #retro #portraiture

Slice of Life- Beehive: Mixed media on paper mounted on board


{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Susanne February 16, 2017, 5:12 am

    Such a beautiful and inspiring portrait, Sandrine! Your scale is impressive, also! Thank you for your generous spirit in sharing your skills and passion!

  • Cynthia February 15, 2017, 2:58 am

    love your work and here the bees around her beehive hairdoooo….just wonderful. am enjoying your classes on the artists network tv……thanks for all the inspiration!

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 15, 2017, 6:50 am

      Thanks Cynthia, I am very pleased to hear that you love the blog and the Artist network classes 🙂

  • Eddi Reid February 8, 2017, 8:15 am

    You have an uncanny ability to post something which I am trying to work on!
    I always have more questions than answers and your blog addresses so many things which help me with my paintings.
    Your generosity is outstanding. And I love my classes, too.
    Thank you.

  • Rossana February 7, 2017, 12:25 pm

    Hi Sandrine, Every time I look at your posts I find something interesting! I loved the watercolour paper mounted on wood, for me a real great news! Thank you and I love your art! Big kisses from Italy!

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 7, 2017, 12:31 pm

      Thanks Rossana! I am so happy you are liking the blog, all the way fro Italy 🙂

      Grazie mille!

  • Daniela February 7, 2017, 6:57 am

    I always find inspiration and motivation in your posts. Thank you Sandrine.

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 7, 2017, 7:23 am

      Thank you Daniela! Always a pleasure to connect with other artists and get positive feedback 🙂

  • Judy Evans February 6, 2017, 6:59 am

    This is such timely information for me! I recently attended an excellent portrait drawing session with Cam Roberts. Other members of the group were using charcoal powder with big brushes, which I wanted to learn more about, and here it is! Also, I wondered how to integrate drawings with painted backgrounds. Voila! I have also mounted watercolour paper on board, and am very interested to look at that post. Do you buy your supplies from Blick? Most American sites I have used tend to be a lot more expensive with the exchange and out of country delivery costs.

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 6, 2017, 7:21 am

      Thanks Judy,
      I am very happy to hear the post is so timely for you 🙂
      I am sure you will like working with charcoal powder, I is fun and very fast.
      I did buy at Blick a few times, when we were staying at Seattle. I could find a larger selection on some products like translucent Yupo paper. If you don’t live close to the border it might be better to choose a Canadian art supplies store, although the US dollars is going down these days.

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