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 http://tinyscissortimes.blogspot.com/. 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. :)

My Portrait Painting Workshop is this weekend!

I can't believe it, but yes! This weekend, August 3 and 4, I am teaching my first Portrait Painting Workshop! My past students probably remember me talking about wanting to do a workshop like this forever, and now it's happening! :)  Thank you to Joan Sowinski for hosting it in her Burning House Art Studio and to those who already signed up. A couple of people had to cancel this time, so I have a few spots still available.

I have lots of material...more than I can squeeze into two days, but I will try my best to give as much as I can. I am hoping we will even have some time to work with a live model!

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!

Athena the Dog - Watercolor Portrait

Remember my blirthday photo competition? Well, out of the four paintings I intended to make as a result of the competition, two are now done! Meet Athena: dog portrait watercolor

I enjoyed working on this painting, even though it took me forever. I'm pretty pleased with myself for not overdoing and overdetailing it too much. I think I managed to keep the original exciting colors and amplify them a bit. Elza, the dog's owner, will be getting this original painting for free :) Read about how you can order your own custom portrait here.

Fontana Art Festival that I posted about last time apparently turned out well. We didn't make it there. Due to a number of little reasons, we left home running a bit late, stopped for food to save the starving husband from certain death, and then ran into a major traffic jam on the freeway. While wasting the precious time in traffic, we came to the conclusion that we wouldn't make it there in time to set up and turned around. We went for a dinner, movie, and even a 15-minute massage date instead. Beats working (which art fairs surprisingly are) but I feel bad about flaking out on the show organizers :(

Otherwise, I am feeling swamped...(insert a long rant about not having time to paint anything other than commissions, not having time to answer emails and comments, and in general not having time; being exhausted by my own kid and occasional marriage drama; not having a single soul to go have a cup of tea with; and an overall state of blues).  Yeah.

On a good note, I started giving private art lessons and it's been interesting so far. Tomorrow is our fourth lesson.



A Portrait A Day 62 - Julie (And Some Figures in Watercolor)

Hispanic Women's Profile Loose Watercolor Portrait Painting Julie is the beautiful model that I had the pleasure painting at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center during my trip to Sacramento. The watercolor above is a 15 or 20 minute painting. I did a very simple drawing with a yellow Nupastel and completed it with watercolor.

woman figure drawing standing nude watercolor

This one is a 5 minute pose. I wish I had more time and a steadier hand!

female nude sitting in watercolor and pastel painting

Julie sitting. Again, watercolor with Nupastel - this time, I did the drawing with light green. Unusual color as far as figure paintings go, but I like the way it softens the Quinacridone Red I used for the skin tones and in the background. 20 or 25 minute pose, which, on the whole, I'm pretty happy with.

That's all for now. In the next post, I'll share some of the sketches I did at the Sacramento Second Saturday Art Walk and the wonderful artists I've met there. Stay tuned :)

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 60 - Audition for Shakespeare

audition for shakespeare a portrait a day 60 young woman speaking watercolor painting 12x9" watercolor on Canson Montval paper (which, it turns out, not only allows you to wash away paint very easily but can, with equal ease, get the paint smeared off during normal handling :/).

This one is based on one of the 600 or so photos I took at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire last weekend. The girl was auditioning for Shakespeare. Not sure what exactly she was reading - first of all, I couldn't hear her very well, and second, I read most of my Shakespeare in Russian.

We've been trying to be a bit more active last month. Went zip lining in Big Bear at the beginning of May (that was also our wedding anniversary)  and also to the Renaissance Faire last weekend. Both were quite fun, although I think I liked zip lining better... It was a rare kid-free outing and there were only two more people minus the guides with us. I'm all for less people = more fun!

Here's yours truly dressed up for the Faire and wearing one of the wonderful masks that were for sale there. I intensely wished I had more money to spend.

renaissance faire girl wearing corset and mask

More pictures from the Ren Faire in my Facebook album.