My Process to Create Contemporary, Figurative, Charcoal, Mixed Medium Drawings

I thought it possible that some people might be interested in the process I go through in creating one of my contemporary, figurative, charcoal drawings or mixed medium works of art. This piece, simply title NO.1, is the first in a new series of mixed media pieces I am doing for my next solo show which will take place in August at the Spinning Plate Gallery in Pittsburgh.

NO.1NO.1   55″ x 44″   charcoal and ink on paper   2015

The starting point of all my compositions is the human figure. In this case it was a beautiful photo of a female figure in a dynamic pose.


I then simply sit in front of a thumbnail rectangle of the same proportions as will be the finished drawing and visualize something I would like to see that derives from the chosen figure. Of course what I imagine isn’t completely unrestricted as I can imagine an almost limitless number of pieces. So for the sake of keeping a coherent body of work the focus for me right now is the realistic or renaissancesque human figure combined with Abstract Expressionist gestures with the addition of fields of more or less geometric shapes of bright color.


5.5″ x4″

Once I have the overall structure of the piece I then sketch the figure where I want it on the page. In this phase the proportions and pose of the figure, it’s placement and size relative to the surrounding area are all paramount. So at first I sketch very lightly and gradually feel my way to the right balance. It’s not surprising that this process can sometimes take several hours, though sometimes you get lucky and it goes fairly quickly.


My usual next step is to shade the figure in a simple way just focusing on the major plane breaks. Being very perfectionistic it was difficult for me to learn to not get into the details of the figure at this stage. Like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, I don’t want the figure to become too beautiful and therefore too precious to me at this stage thereby making it more difficult to destroy part of it with gesture later.

No1 Prog 1

On all pieces I already know generally the shape and flow of the gesture I intend to add. I look at the piece and visualize it until I have it well set in my mind – maybe one minute. The actual gestural mark making then goes fairly quickly though I almost always make several more additions before a piece is finished, sometimes with the charcoal and sometimes rubbing with a cloth. This time it was quite quick, perhaps just 5 minutes, and very unusual in that what I got from my initial pass was very much what I was looking for. Aside from tweaking a few details, I only made one pass.

No1 Prog 2

From my original conception for the piece I knew I wanted a red triangle coming in from the left side and at this point I realized I could use this area to give the piece a bit more meaning. I have for some time been interested in the future of human evolution through technology. (Someday I will do a whole show on this subject.) So I decided to have under a red glaze images of the interior of computers.


This I then linked to the figure through long lines of what computers “think” in, binary code – ones and zeros. The idea being that the figure has had a computer chip implanted in her brain making her a new sort of being. In the gesture area I have many strings of ones and zeros signifying this alteration. And springing from the center of the woman’s forehead more strings of binary which relates to her altered mental abilities and the new thoughts, inventions and creations she is now capable of.


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