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© 2017 by Starlu Studio

Watercolor Portrait- Lessons Learned

August 13, 2017

 A watercolor portrait of my father's friend Randy.


Beginners luck is something I experience often when I'm learning a new method.  In my efforts to loosen up and paint in broad strokes, I had the happy accident of creating this painting of my father's friend Randy.  He was a great subject to start with because he has such an expressive face...and that beard!


In this Artist Journal entry, I will share with you my experience of the how this painting was created...warts and all. 


First things first...I worked on Arches 300 lb cold pressed watercolor paper.  This is a very heavy paper that is perfect for the punishment I knew I would be doling out to my painting.  


The colors on my pallet were Winsor and Newton professional Watercolors: Permanent Rose, Hansa Yellow Deep, and Transparent Yellow.

Cotman Watercolors: Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Red Hue, Alizarin Crimson Hue, Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber and White.  


I started with a pencil sketch of my subject.  Once I was satisfied with my sketch, I erased as many of the pencil marks as possible without losing the main drawing on the page. The pencil marks can "muddy up" watercolor once you start working.


I put a very thin layer of general color on the page, paying special attention to the planes of the face and where the light is coming from.   

I continued to work by adding translucent layers of color.  I applied general color to the shirt and hair and background, painting in transparent colors and broad loose strokes.  I applied loose strokes of direction for the hair and the first layers of shapes on the shirt.

I then began to define some of the darker areas of the face, keeping my eye on color values and how they relate to one another in the process.


At this point, I found it hard to keep loose and not focus in on details, but caught myself getting lost in the details of the beard, creating that muddy look.  Ug!


At this point, I was not too pleased with the painting, and had to I step away...but not before using a wet rag to scrub off all of the offending areas.  


When I returned, I was better able evaluate where I was with this painting...seeing it with a new eye.  Stepping away is always a good thing to do when you're stuck.  

I used a wet brush of white on the areas separating the face from the background and soften some lines.  Then with wet washes of blues, violets and blacks (made from Burnt Umber, Alizarin Crimson and Prussian Blue) I defined the background around the head. My last step was to use white directly from the tube to accent the hair and beard.

I can't give beginners luck all the credit, though, as I have been painting and drawing portraits for quite a while.  But not all work turns out this well when I learn a new media.


The lessons I learned from this watercolor painting experience are:


-Pencil marks should be light and few so they won't muddy up the watercolors.


-You can (and should) mix your own blacks.  Black from the tube is very flat on the paper.  Black mixed from a variety of colors have a wonderful richness you cannot get any other way.  One recipe I used for black is Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber and Alizarin Crimson.


-Use diluted pure color in layers to keep your painting translucent.


- You can erase watercolor with a wet rag if you are using a heavy enough paper. Not all the color will come off, but in this case it left a nice light layer, giving deeper dimensions to the painting.


-You can use white directly from the tube and scratch the paper to regain some accent lights (Joseph Zbukvic's YouTube videos show how he used white from the tube to accent and finish his work.)



Thanks for checking out todays Artist Journal.  Please like and share if you learned anything!





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