The earliest recorded portrait drawing of a known individual by Johnson is Henry Sewell, done in Augusta, Maine, and dated November 26, 1844. Already in 1844, when Johnson was twenty, this work shows the artist's superb use of charcoal (black chalk) to highlight the lights and shadow that capture the three-dimensionality of his sitter. This talent may have been initiated from the time he worked in a lithography shop in Boston, and also the availability of mezzotints.
The Sewell portrait also shows Johnson’s understanding of anatomy in the sitter’s facial structure. During this period, 1844–1949, Johnson almost always used charcoal (black chalk) for his portraits. Some are half-length portraits including hands, but the majority are heads (and necks) alone. He took about three days to complete a charcoal portrait. The style of the time was to present portraits in oval frames.
See Technical Information on Johnson's Practices for a discussion of charcoal, black chalk, crayon, and pastel. —PH