Day 5/100 Watercolor Portrait


Today I worked on a a watercolor portrait inspired by #PortraitswithKarl (Karl Staub) on #SktchyApp. Karl is good teacher - he explains his process and what is the inner dialogue in his head as he paints. I like how he kept his focus on experimenting with the paint and not rushing to get to a final result so soon.


For this portrait, I sketched the person's head in very loosely in pencil. I used a limited palette: Winsor Newton's Cotman Watercolors in Cad Yellow Lemon, Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue, Pthalo Blue, and Payne's Grey. To start, I looked for places where I wanted to retain the white of the paper as the highlights in the portrait. Then I blocked in the face, using thin washes of permanent rose for the initial skin tone, then added blues to create shadows. I built up the features in the face and then worked on building up the hair in the same way using blues and blacks. At the very end, I add ivory black gouache for the darkest shadows.


Painting this way requires working on one section and then moving on to another section while you wait for the original section to dry. I felt that using the thin washes to build up the colors was very forgiving - I could easily erase a mistake by diluting it with water and blotting it away with a paper towel. I noticed that the watercolor paint, similar to the gouache, was able to be reactivated with water and then gradually fading the pigment away with a brush. I used this technique to soften some of the hard edges in specific places, such as the hair.


I prefer this slower way of working - I was able to get into the flow of painting and focused on watching the color blend and merge. I'm getting better at identifying the consistency of the paint - tea, milk, cream, and butter. You start with tea and lighter values and gradually move toward cream and darker values. Butter is usually used for impasto effects.


This portrait took me about two hours to complete - which seems really fast. I didn't spend time making a grid to make an accurate drawing, I just roughly sketched it onto the page. This let me spend more time building up the layers of paint instead of trying to achieve a likeness. Even still, I think my portrait has a pretty good balance between being expressive and also looking like the original subject.


I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. Tomorrow: skulls and anatomy.

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