Josh Hernandez, known online as @mad.charcoal, is a Phoenix-based artist who can take a blank piece of paper, throw some charcoal at it, and before you know it you’ve watched a face come to life in under a minute. As many others seemed to have also experienced, we found him on TikTok, where his current following is above 6 million which speaks wonders to his talent, as amassing an audience that large with attention spans as short as they are in 2022 is quite a feat in-and-of-itself.

Charcoal illustration by Josh Hernandez

The process he goes through to create his art can best be described as organized chaos. To the viewer, it may seem as though the quick and rough strokes he makes are inconsequential to the final piece, that the shapes and forms we see coming together are merely a coincidence or happy accident. However, I think that’s the beauty of his entire body of work. We don’t know if he goes into every piece with the foresight of how he’s going to scribble, smudge, and compose this particular portrait, or if he’s letting the creativity run free through his hands onto the paper and allowing whatever comes through to be brought to life. What we do know though, through being able to watch his process on video, is that regardless of the premeditation, there is something absolutely breathtaking about seeing a portrait awaken when all you thought you were looking at were random markings with no meaning.

Charcoal illustration

This is a seemingly shared experience among a lot of viewers of his work, as you can click any one of his posts and expect to see comments along the lines of, “he turned randomness into a work of art” or “this brought me to tears.” His art also seems to speak to another aspect of our absolute human-ness, the idea of making something beautiful out of chaos. It’s something his audience seems to relate to over and over, and it serves as a great reminder to every artist, art lover, and human out there – whether it be in your practice or in your life, when everything seems like a mess, you’re probably on the precipice of a masterpiece. 

We encourage you to check out his TikTok and Instagram for quick and easy viewing, or if you’d like to get more insight into his process you can check out his YouTube. He also has a website with some more information about himself and a full portfolio of his incredible work.

Charcoal illustration of skulls
Charcoal illustration by Josh Hernandez
Charcoal illustration of woman and fire

All image rights belong to Josh Hernandez.