I have been working on this drawing for a long time and it has undergone many iterations. I see it as a learning piece. For one, I learned that you can really add layers to a pastel drawing and make a lot of changes. As an artist I really don’t mind building marks and rough surfaces, I actually respond to that and it is one of the things I seek, so the layers were interesting to work with.

This piece is close to my heart because it is Nicolas (my first born) when he was about four . A lot of the drawing was developed through memory since the only reference I had was an old flat photograph that was basically the silhouette of the figure.

I added the driftwood to break up the negative space and give it the sense of place. There are a couple of beaches we frequent in Georgia and South Carolina with lots of driftwood trees along the sand. I find this landscape mysterious and dramatic.

The addition of the beached sharks signify and encounter of an innocent child with the unknown. On thing this piece really made me realize is that I am feeling an urge to start painting again. Working with the  layering and color interaction really connected me with that process again.

In regards to the medium, pastel has always been one of my favorites. It can be manipulated more like a drawing or a painting and it demands the thought process from both.


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Sharon Mcneil featured artist

“A narrative artist’s thoughts on drawing and painting”


I started this blog with the intention of sharing thoughts and insights on drawing, both my own and those of other artists and designers. I have created the “Featured Artist” category as a way to share other artist’s insights. The following interview launches this new section.

Today’s featured artist is my friend and colleague Sharon McNeil. We met at the Savannah College of Art and Design where we both teach in the Foundation Studies Department and both share a passion for structural yet gestural drawing and narrative art. Sharon’s artwork is grounded on drawing and storytelling, her background as a painter, stage designer for theater and college professor have shaped her development as an artist and her approach to creating art.  This written piece covers a little bit of her professional and cultural background, what inspires her art and insights into her process.

You can find Sharon’s work online under Sharon McNeil and her pseudonym Christina Mehelis. These are links to two of her websites: p

(Adriana Burgos) Hi Sharon. Thank you for agreeing to be the first featured artist on my blog. Let’s get this interview started. What inspired you to go into a career in the arts?

(Sharon McNeil) For as long as I can remember I loved to draw.  Crayons and paper were always a good present for me as a little kid and my parents were very encouraging.  I never thought about doing anything else it was just the most natural thing for me.

(A.B.) There is a strong sense of story in your drawings and paintings. Do you consider yourself a narrative artist?

(S.M.) Yes, I do.  It may be my background in theatre or that I come from a family of writers, but I think in terms of narratives and how they express an idea or feeling.  I even think of my still-lives as being narratives in that they are a location where something has taken place.

(A.B) You mentioned your background in theater. How has working in theater affected your creative process as an artist?

(S.M) My style tends to be on the theatrical side.  I prefer dramatic lighting and arrangements that suggest a narrative. I am also very accustomed to stepping back and looking at my work from a distance.  In theater, when a backdrop is highly refined in detail and has a smooth finish it usually dies on stage. So I have taken this idea to heart in my own work.  I prefer slightly ragged edges with rough scumbling in my technique rather than having things blended smoothly.  The idea is that you clearly see how it was painted up close (the brush strokes and marks) but when you step back these all pull together to make a powerful image.  I believe that if your eyes have to work a little to pull the image together, they are more stimulated and makes a richer viewing experience.

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“Father John” oil by Sharon McNeil

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Drawing for “Father John” by Sharon McNeil

(A.B) What inspires your images/stories?

(S.M) My inspiration comes from a combination sources and experiences but it is an organic process for me.  I may be inspired by a novel and that story will seep into a still life I am setting up that gives me an idea for some figurative work.  The one theme that seems to run through all my work is the relationship to our past.  I have always been interested in my Greek heritage which has inspired a lot of my work and now that I am learning about my Scottish heritage, it has begun to as well.

(A.B) In regards to your interest in your Greek heritage, you went back to the island of Nysiros a few years ago, where you had spent a summer in your freshman year of college. This was an important trip for your research as an artist. What were your goals during that second visit?

(S.M) It had been a dream of mine to do some plein-air work in Greece and creating work was a chance to show what the island means to me.  I wanted to show what beauty there was in this place that has been so overlooked.  I worked towards an exhibition in which I wanted to show how densely layered with history this tiny island is.  I even did a drawing from a Satellite image of Nisyros and marked the locations the paintings were from to give the show a real sense of “place” for the audience.

(A.B) How did this trip affect your work?

“Panagia Spilliani” sketch by Sharon Mcneil

(S.M) I have become much more comfortable with sketching on location while traveling and it has given me many more ideas for future work. Right now there is another series I am planning that would show the views one sees while walking through the village and up the passageway to a church that holds a holy icon.  It is a common trip for spiritual pilgrims.

(A.B) As a narrative artist what types of art forms influence your work the most?

(S.M) I would say mostly paintings but different kinds for different reasons.  I look at some paintings to see how things are done.  I have looked closely at the work of John Singer Sargent, particularly the watercolors and oil sketches he did in Italy which I saw at the LA county Museum, when I am trying to understand how there can be so much color in white, gray and tan.  In his case he has a sort of perfect pitch when it comes to color and his brush strokes are painterly but accurate which I really admire.  I also look at Cezanne and Van Gogh to see how they push color for expressive purposes but always from an honest vantage point.  I am drawn to the work of artists like Chagall and Redon not so much as an influence but for the feeling their work gives me.

(A.B)  Who has been your most influential teacher?

(S.M) The artist Domenic Cretara, who I studied with at Cal State Long Beach has been the biggest influence to my work to this day.  He did a series called the large drawings in 2007 that I keep going back to look at again and again.  It is too much to describe here but what I can say is that they are just lyrical in the way the forces play out on the page.   You can look at his work by growing his website.


(A.B) How do you orchestrate and design the storytelling images in your drawings and paintings?

 (S.M) I work from a combination of still life set ups, and photographs.  I also sketch a lot just for fun, especially when I travel and that often either inspires and idea or is useful as reference material.

(A.B) I know from working with you as a fellow faculty member that you are very good at staging setups and creating props. Do you work from staged settings or still lives when drawing or painting?


 (S.M) For me they are the same thing.  A still life can be objects on a table or windowsill but there could also be a tree growing out of the table or a window to nowhere.  I think it is the contradictions in a setup that make it really interesting. So I look for really interesting props and I glue, wire, or duct tape them together to arrange them in interesting ways.  I have never felt the need to draw the wire or the duct tape.  I would rather have their assembly be a bit of a mystery. I enjoy the process of staging a still life and often this leads to more ideas. It adds to the organic nature of my ideas.

(A.B) Do you work regularly from direct observation?

(S.M) I do work regularly from direct observation, especially in my sketchbook or when I draw from a model.  However, the observational drawings or paintings are not usually part of the work I do as a series where a lot more intention and planning is involved.  There, I use photographs and create specific set ups.

(A.B) Do you ever work from memory?

(S.M) I don’t usually work from memory. I need something to look at.  It is usually through the practice of really looking at something that I come up with some of my best work, however sometimes I find it necessary to take artistic liberties.

The role of drawing in your work

(A.B) What is the role of drawing in your creative process?

(S.M) Drawing is the process.  It is the most enjoyable part and for me painting is drawing with color.  I don’t draw and then paint I draw with paint.

(A.B) I would like to remark on the formal quality of your drawings. Your work shows solid volumetric form through the understanding of structure and lighting yet with a very loose handling of line. What are your thoughts on the importance of gesture drawing in your own work?


Ghost, ink wash, Sharon Mcneil

(S.M) It is essential.  I never really compose without the gesture.  It is the beginning and end of a piece and what makes me want to draw in first place.  There is nothing more fun than starting out a big expressive gesture on a large piece of paper when you have a great model with dynamic poses.  I know a lot of people do those little tiny gestures in their sketchbook to save paper but I am a bigger fan of the one to a page.  However, it is not just about the beginning, it is about being able to maintain that energy and excitement even to the end of a piece, even after hours and hours.

(A.B) How does a solid understanding of form and space impact your expressive intent as an artist?

(S.M) It is not just about being able to draw what I want to, but about being able to come up with visual ideas.  Good visual work is really driven by form, space and composition and without this understanding ones ideas are limited.


Thinking Jester, Sharon Mcneil

(A.B) What role does mark-making play in your drawings?

(S.M) Marks affect drawings in so many ways but more than anything I want them to be felt and to remain somewhat loose.  Sometimes they work as a contour but it is usually best if they come and go and are not solid.  Other times they work better to describe a “plane” or to actually “be” the plane.  That is where the sense of feeling and conviction is so important to a mark.

(A.B) This insight in to your work and your creative process has been very inspiring. Thank you for bringing new viewpoints into this blog through this interview.  In addition to this blog post some of your sketchbook work will be showcased in my next Sunday Sketchbook feature.




Unbound, beyond the sketchbook practice

There is a stack of sketchbooks in my studio filled with sketches done over the years during my boys’ karate classes. These quick sketches are exercises in composition, gesture and analysis of movement, they are also the point of departure for the Karate series.

Today I am sharing a mixed media drawing and the sketchbook pages that inspired it.

karate side kick sketchbook

sketchbook gesture drawing


Sketchbook gesture revisited

The top line drawing was the quick gesture drawing done on site at the dojo, its generalized character  is the result of rapid note taking. The next image shows the same drawing embellished with mixed media marks and color. This later version was the inspiration for a piece titled  “Warm up”. Due to the minimalistic nature of the initial gestures, I relied heavily on memory, imagination and a little bit on direct observation while developing this drawing. The subject matter and the mixture of materials which include water-soluble  graphite, acrylic wash, charcoal, sanguine and chalk pastels were conducive to energetic mark-making. My focus here was on gesture, rhythm and surface development. To capture the gesture, I  paid close attention to the tilts of the three moveable masses of the figure (skull, ribcage and pelvis).


Adriana Burgos “Warm up”, mixed media, 21″ x 29″

I am pleased with the resulting sense of movement and the surface quality that emerged from the layers of material and look forward to future media explorations as the series grows.

A memory in brown and black

This end of the year I had the opportunity to get away with my family for a week. We stayed by a lake in the woods around Stone Mountain. It was a great way to bring in the new year, we did some hiking, sat around bon fires, watched the kids play out all day in spite of the cold and spent time with family and friends. I got to work on a small silverpoint drawing which I will share in a future post because it could use some refining.

I am however sharing a journal drawing from our trip to Stone Mountain three years ago. It’s always great to find time to draw on our nature getaways. This two page spread is a landscape study in warm and cool temperatures to show depth. It is part of a written journal in which I record our family’s experiences when we go camping. Keeping journals and sketchbooks is a great way to record life experiences, I hope my children will look through these journals in the future and find many of the memories we have created together.


Adriana Burgos, Study of woods in black and sienna, 2014

In this particular sketch, I used sanguine, graphite and charcoal. Using the red and black is always an interesting challenge, because although the drawing is still a value drawing, the temperature shifts from black to red brown offer an added quality that allows me to manipulate depth through value contrast and temperature.

I look forward to sharing new memories through sketchbook drawings this new year.


Study for “Discovery”


Adriana Burgos, Study for “Discovery”, Sanguine on paper 2016

On my last post, I shared some thumbnail sketches and a longer study for “Fort”. My featured drawing today  is titled “Discovery” and it is another comp based on the thumbnails. This was done with sanguine pencil on cream-colored Stonehenge paper.

I love working in sanguine, the warmth of the red-brown fascinates me and I like the way it ties in with art history. In this particular study I built values mainly with layers of line beginning with one directional diagonal hatching and then changing the direction of the marks on top layers.

Many of my favorite drawings by old masters are done with red chalk and I have great admiration for work created with this medium by Raphael Sanzio, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti and Jacopo Pontormo. I study the work of the old masters because of the rich draftsmanship in their work and their grasp of visual storytelling. Below are some links to wonderful websites (the met museum one of my favorites) with great drawings the old masters mentioned.

Story has always been a great inspiration for me, currently I am working with narratives based on the interaction of people with natural environments. It feels great to see how my sketchbook drawings and photographs from numerous visits to state parks in and around coastal Ga, are influencing recent work in the studio.

Idea development sketches for “Fort”

I have come to love the mysterious quality of the landscape around the area I live. This summer I started working on the South Land series, a body of work inspired by places I visit periodically in the Georgia and South Carolina low country. The natural resources here include marshes, beaches, swamps and woods. In this series, I am combining images from sketchbook drawings, and my photographs into narrative compositions.  Always an avid reader, I find inspiration in literature and I believe the juxtaposition of figure and landscape creates a sense of story worth exploring.


Adriana Burgos, thumbnail sketches for “Fort”, graphite on paper

Today I am sharing some thumbnail sketches and a preliminary sketch  for “Fort”. The thumbnails are about 3″ wide and were done with graphite in my sketchbook. The larger comp is roughly 15″ x 11″ done with sanguine pencil. Although the small graphite drawings were meant to be different ideas for a single piece, I intend to develop several finished drawings based on these. My main objectives here were to experiment with shapes in relation to the picture plane, placement of the elements, movement and depth. I was having fun with the effect of directional lines across the space. The orientation of the branches and tree trunks create a choreography of linear structure that I find striking.


Adriana Burgos 2016, “study for Fort”, sanguine on cream stonehenge paper,

The final pieces based on these studies will be large charcoal drawings. This is the ideal medium  to continue my experimentations with value to create a sense of atmosphere. I hope to be posting progress soon!

Recent charcoal drawings


The last couple of months have certainly been busy, getting ready for the academic year and for a recent group exhibition I was part of in Savannah Ga. The name of the exhibition was “Nature Nurtured” and it featured the work of eight artists, all members of the Foundation Studies Department at SCAD.

I exhibited the charcoal drawings shown below as well as three silverpoint pieces. These images express my responses to some of the places I have visited regularly over the years combined with my interest in narrative drawing. I consider them  the beginning of a series I plan to call “Southland”.

I look forward to sharing  process shots for these as well as some installation and gallery shots in the coming weeks.