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Charcoal and mixed media portrait step by step painting tutorial

Charcoal portrait on paper step by step : Beehive

Charcoal Portrait on paper: 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 mounted on a 48 x 48 inches board.


Here is how you can paint a charcoal portrait on paper mounted on board


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

Mounting watercolor paper on board.

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

The charcoal portrait

painting with charcoal

I am working with charcoal powder and brushes

painting a charcoal portrait

And with charcoal sticks for darker areas and details

applying charcoal with a brush

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

painting a charcoal portrait with brushes

Charcoal powder and brushes

eyes in charcoal portrait

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

layering charcoal to paint a portrait

Building the portrait layer by layer.

lips with charcoal on portrait

painting upside down Sometimes it is easier to look at the drawing upside down to compare it to your reference picture.
taking off charcoal with a kneadable eraser

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

lifting off charcoal with a brush

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

Working on the background with fluid acrylics

mixing acrylics and charcoal

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.fluid acrylic washes on  charcoal portrait

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

acrylic background on charcoal portrait

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

mixing acrylics and charcoal

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

painting a charcoal portrait step by step

I am working with each color, one at a time, painting a series of circular shapesmixed media portrait with acrylics and charcoal

I like that this pattern has a retro feel.

Finishing the portrait

painting hair with charcoal

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

I am also drawing a few charcoal bees painting a charcoal portrait step by step

drawing charcoal bees

varnish on top of charcoal

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

charcoal portrait with mixed media background on paper mounted on board

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


Charcoal portrait on paper step by step : Beehive
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  • Susanne

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

  • 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!

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

  • Eddi Reid

    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

    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!

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

      Grazie mille!

  • Daniela

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

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

  • 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.

    • 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.