Simon - A Watercolor Child Portrait Step by Step

Some time last year, I had the pleasure of working on two custom portraits for Laura of I painted her two sons, adding to her growing collection of family portraits created by different artists. It was fun! She let me choose from several reference photos and we worked together to arrive at paintings that made both of us happy. She is pretty much my perfect client :)

10 x 8" Watercolor on Arches cold press 140lb watercolor paper.

This is one of those portraits. Simon is the older kid and Laura wanted a painting based on one of her favorite photos of him as a toddler. I typically advise for the reference photos to have a strong light and shadow pattern, preferably in natural light and to avoid pictures taken with a flash or those with softer, diffused light, or back light. This just happened to be a backlit photo. If you are a beginning painter, it could make things difficult. The variation of values in the face becomes very subtle and you need a good understanding of facial structure to make it convincing. But it is doable and incidentally, two of my portraits I'm rather fond of have back light:

(Both of them also have step-by-step posts, here and here).

As always, I started with a thumbnail sketch:

I do this to get a general feel for the personality and mood of my subject and to give the client an idea of the end result. Sometimes I do more than one sketch, trying out different compositions, crops, colors, value schemes. Once the sketch is approved, I move on to the drawing:

You can barely see anything here because in portraits, I tend to keep the drawing minimal. I don't map out areas of light and shadows and prefer to that with paint. This drawing was made using grid method directly on the watercolor paper.

On to the next step, initial washes:

Very lightly, I mapped out main shadow areas, while leaving most highlights as the white of the paper. From now on, it's building up the layers with the general idea of keeping the color cooler in the shadows and warmer in the lights.

Some more form modeling here. Still keeping the highlights white.

Most of the time, my portrait palette consists of a yellow, a red, and a blue. Sometimes, there is an additional version of each color - a cool red (quinacridone red), a cool yellow (quinacridone gold), a warm yellow (indian or hansa yellow), and a warm blue (french ultramarine or cobalt). In this painting, I also had small areas of phtalo blue (cool blue).

Getting close to done. This image looks a bit pale compared to the previous one because of the different lighting when I took the pictures. I softened some of the edges and signed it. I felt that it was at the stage where it was still lively but not overdone. When I sent it to Laura for approval, however, she wanted a greater level of detail and depth. And so the work continued:

Working with smaller brushes, increasing value contrast (i.e. making dark things darker next to light things, which makes them pop), softening some edges.

And the finished, color-corrected version!

She loved it. :)

Day 11 - a few sketches from the days before

Things get crazy, no time for anything, etc. Here is a sketch of baby Ella (who is already 2 months old!):


And an animated gif of her created by the almighty Google through their awesome Auto-Awesome feature. I am having all kinds of fun with it. (Sorry if you hate pictures of babies...I can't help it! I promise I won't do it very often, though :))


The second sketch below is something I made based on a picture of a woman walking through an alley. Initially, I just liked the figure and the tall buildings around her (which were not dark or menacing in the reference photo). As I worked on it, though, it began morphing into an abstraction more and more and taking on a darker mood. I'm not sure it's finished. I like the transparent layers but I also want to see how far I can push it into abstraction and darkness. We'll see...


Ella-Nutella (or Meet the New Baby)

So you may have noticed that I disappeared for about two months...Which is pretty much what having a baby does to you :). Things get intense and everything other than making it to the due date, recovering, and taking care of the baby becomes less important.

Ella was born on November 4 and what can I say, she is pretty amazing. As much as I'm not into babies, I do tend to like my own quite a bit :)

Adora - watercolor portrait of a little girl

colorful painting of a little girl in watercolor Some time last year, I was approached by this little girl's dad who asked me if I would be interested in participating in their project. The essence of the project is this: artists and illustrators are invited to create artwork based on or referencing photos of Adora, a 3.5 year old girl. At the time, I was not interested (partly, due to the fact that I would be doing this essentially for free). But it has been in the back of my mind since then, and when I was asked to do a painting demo for a local art club, I found a photo of Adora that inspired me and used it in the demo. I really liked the quality of light in the photo and how intense the little girl's expression was. It was fun to paint it.

I skipped the drawing and jumped right into it, painting directly. I was working from a black and white printout of the photo and pretty much made the colors up, referencing also my impression of the original photo. I was talking the whole time and answering questions, which was remarkably easy for me. It is pretty interesting how such an introverted and private person as myself can be so comfortable doing public speaking. It could be just the art-related public speaking, I guess. Something I am passionate about and happy to share :) I am doing another demo for a larger group on May 29th. Hope it goes well!

A Portrait A Day 61 - Wonder

original watercolor portrait painting from photo little boy 12 x 9" Watercolor and watercolor sticks on Canson Montval cold press watercolor paper. I'll let you guess who this could be...

As it often happens with these quick portraits, the painting doesn't look exactly like the reference photo and it's completely fine with me. I feel that I've done my job when I captured the mood, the essence of the person at a particular moment. Beyond that, art can stand on its own, without being constantly compared to the "real thing." This applies to any other subject. Unless your goal is to copy the contour of an object exactly, it doesn't matter if it's not perfect. Once you create a piece of art, it becomes a thing in itself and begins its life independent of what inspired it or served as reference for its creation.

Did that sound smart or what? :) Now if only I could pull the same trick with my artist's statement...





A Portrait A Day 55 - Elijah - my first pastel portrait

baby boy impressionist pastel painting 5x7"  Nupastel on Ampersand Pastelbord. Reference photo by the awesome Jordan Boesch and this embodiment of intense focus is my son Eliajh :) HAS been a while! Various important and just unavoidable things kept me from painting (not counting commissions) for a couple of weeks :( I am looking forward to getting back into daily (or almost daily) painting.

I parted with two of my recent "moody" miniature landscapes but I was glad to send them to someone I got to know through a commission (step-by-step coming soon).

As for today's portrait, I have been interested in pastels for a while now and have tried some here and there, with varying levels of failure. I have never tried working on a sanded surface until a couple of weeks ago, when I did a figure study of my husband on a sanded Colourfix paper. What a difference! Like with watercolor, the surface your work on can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of your work in pastel (unless you're a pastel genius and can work on anything?)

I know I have a lot to learn when it comes to pastels, but I like the process!