Thursday, January 9, 2014

Painting watercolor portraits...

Reference photo, 8/2013
In recent months, I've been experimenting with watercolor portraits and thought I'd show several stages in the development of a study I painted of my brother, Scott. I worked from a few digital photos I had taken this summer. Although they basically outdoor snapshots, not done with special lighting, etc., they provided a good jumping-off point for this watercolor sketch. 
Step 1
One of my goals was to keep the painting style loose. So, I purposely avoided using masking fluid or penciled-in guidelines. I think that because my brother's face is relatively familiar, it was easier for me to work quickly, without a preliminary drawing.

To approximate the color of his face (which is deeply sun-tanned), I started off (Step 1) with a very pale wash of burnt sienna, using some Winsor violet to tone it down a bit in places where darker shadow would later be laid on. I used a slightly less dilute combination of Winsor violet and burnt sienna in the first steps of suggesting placement of the eyes and nose.
Step 2
For the background, I used a wet-on-wet application, mostly permanent sap green and new gamboge, with a little shadow green here and there. To suggest foliage in the background, I used a large brush (a #16 pointed round), loaded with paint, to apply the background. I wanted to suggest rather than to make a detailed statement. As I painted around the hair, I did so in a way that allowed the white of the paper to stand in for my brother's wild and curly mane!

I then began deepening the shadows, adding richer mixes of the same sienna-violet combination I'd started with. For the deeper shadows at the lips (Step 2) I add some brown madder -- a rich, ruddy red that I just love working with. 

My goal was to preserve the effect of sunshine on my brother's tan face. Rather than using a thick layer of wash to deepen the color, I used multiple layers of thinner wash to build the planes of his face, paying particular attention to the creases around the nose. 
Step 3
The shadowy areas around the hairline, beard, and eyebrows (Step 3) were painted in with a pale wash combo of French ultramarine blue and sepia. I deepened this wash a bit, intensifying the blue, when adding color to the pupil and iris in the eyes.
"My Brother Scott"
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It was important to get the shape of the 'bulb' of the nose painted in correctly, so I again tried to limit deepening the pigment, opting for several layers of light wash instead of just one. Once I felt satisfied with that, I then added more brown madder and burnt sienna to the wash (Step 3) and began to add more layers of shadow. 

Although the reference photo shows my brother wearing a black shirt, I decided to paint it deep blue (Cobalt, with sepia shadows) to provide even more contrast with the skin tone, and to bring out the blue of his eyes.  I had a lot of fun with this study -- and I believe it was more enjoyable because I didn't feel constrained by pencil guidelines. I hope this painting captures my brother's free spirit! 
Update, July 1, 2015: The painting placed in the "Special Merit Category" for the 5th annual "Figurative" art competition held by the LightSpaceTime online gallery.  Read about the award here and see all winners in this grouping:

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