5. Expression In Charcoal & Gouache : American Indian Shaman

“AXIS MUNDI” : January 2013 by Lesley Humphrey

Demo : Jerry’s Artarama, Houston

You never know what you’re going to see on your own front door!  This wonderful Native American was milling about on a parking lot, waiting to join a local parade.  Thank goodness I had my camera!

Jerry’s Artarama, Houston sponsored a morning of art recently, enabling me to bring my Lessons With Lesley to the local community.  Thanks to good friend Kim, I am able to show you how the morning progressed.  Enjoy!

My tools… Notice how many erasing/etching tools I have, compared to my charcoal, or application tools.

First, I spray the gesso-prepared art board with powdered charcoal and water. Then manipulate with rags, spray bottle, brushes, etc.

Manipulating the board. I then let it dry completely before I proceed

I begin with a strong mark that delineates not necessarily the external appearance, but the underlying structure. With a soft eraser or cloth, I excavate my first layer of where I see large planes of light

Using a smaller eraser, I excavate/erase smaller, cleaner ‘platforms of light’.

I then add darker details, taking care to be minimal and scant with these.

By selecting increasingly smaller, harder erasers to create crisper planes of 3-D details, I eventually arrive at my last ‘high light’ which I execute with my mechanical eraser. (It sounds like a dentist’s drill, and often elicits squeals from the audience!)

I then augmented the drawing with washes of gouache.

Just a couple of layers of gouache, and I am satisfied with the demo, which took approximately 45 minutes.

I am not the type of artist who is concerned with details (obviously), or even the correct outward appearance of a person, place or object.  Instead, my interest is always the “feel” of the image and what it has evoked in me.

When I am fortunate enough to encounter such a powerful image, and have the good sense to carry a small camera or sketch pad with me, back at the studio, I tend to reflect later on why I love it so; Write about it, explore its message.  You might guess my interest as you consider the title.  Perhaps you will notice that the spirit drum, and the ancient symbol thereon is the main area of focus, from which lines, gestures and movement seem to evolve and revolve.  This is not a warrior, but a Shaman; One who is connected both to earth and his Great Spirit.  The Axis Mundi.

We would do well as a ‘civilization’ to learn from our Native American brethren; To take only what we can carry; To be a good custodians of nature, learning to live with, nurture and understand inner and outer life; To become familiar and respond to the Great Spirit that animates all things….To know things that people like this gentleman seem to know so well.


Thank you, beautiful Native American man, whoever you are, for crossing my path for a moment…Such an inspiration.  Such a privilege!  Native Brit’s encounter with a beautiful Native American.


It’s great fun, it’s fast, and it’s not brain surgery!  So why not have a go?

Same demo : Similar technique, this time in gouache only…

On previously stained and dried hot-pressed watercolor paper, began using strong, structural marks as above.  Added shadow shapes for ‘WLDH’ (see 12 Lights lesson.)

Added gouache shapes for WLH (where light hits), and enhanced with pastels for the higher lights.

Carefully, minimally added details in dark and also in light to create form

Added ‘linear enhancements’ to creative elements as well as on the actual image. I consider this unfinished, but demo time ran out, so we left it here. (Approximately 20 minutes)

Want to see the process in action? Click below.

Final Word….



My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”.  In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information.  The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey.  If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."

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