Watercolor portraits

Almost like formal portraiture? Not really. While painted somewhat formally, I am mainly experimenting with expressions.

These come from photos I have taken of people on the street. Some look lost in thought, sad, haunted, sometimes expressionless. Commuter robots (comm u-bots). When walking around downtown or places like NY you’ll see them everywhere…

I don’t like photographs of people posing. Especially in portraits you see people pose a lot. They are too aware of the camera. It looks staged. I like the candid photos, where people look more natural, unaware that someone is taking a picture. These portraits are not very big. The face of the girl with the long blond hair is only 3 inches long. The other one is bigger.

As for technique, these take multiple glazes to get the right color and value. Direct painting (alla prima) is, unfortunately, not really possible in watercolor so I normally prefer to do work like this in oil. As in oil painting I only used black, white, cad red, raw sienna and ultramarine blue. That’s it.

It is a nice challenge and these can certainly be improved. Always something to learn! As artists I think it is very important to keep evolving, keep pushing. I am considered a landscape painter in watercolor but I refuse to be put in some drawer. Never be static and predictable. Or known for one thing. It’s too easy to burn out!

The art world is becoming increasingly homogenized. The only way to stand out is to do your own thing, not copy other painters’ styles and subjects. Workshops can help only if you get the guidance to find yourself (your own voice) or at least be helped in that direction. Pick workshops carefully! Ask the venue about the instructor and their teaching style. Don’t fall for reputation. There are some with big names out there but they don’t know how to teach you a thing!

9 thoughts on “Watercolor portraits

  1. thenaughtybun

    Good advice! And I totally agree. I like the saying “be yourself, everybody else is taken” and this could easily be applied to art. I think that whatever you do, you have to be true to yourself, otherwise you just wear yourself out.
    Lovely portraits, they have wonderful depth.

  2. Janette

    I love the feel of your work, to me they look great. I have heard the expression less is more several times and even though I understand what your saying. Would you have any hints on not getting caught up in all the detail. 🙂 I start out with the best intentions but seem to get carried away and like you say it becomes over done. Any advice would be very much appreciated.

    1. frankeber Post author

      It is mostly experience, Janette. Try to paint with your painting surface further away from you. Painting hand should be at about 120 to 140 degree angle and your face at least two feet or more away from the paper/canvas! That way you never loose sight of the ‘entire picture’, never look at one spot always a the whole painting! Try it, it is harder than it sounds…
      And squint down on whatever you paint and paint only what you see through your half closed eyes!

  3. anna

    I like the way that your paintings are of strangers, people you have seen in the street but do not know. They have wonderful depth for subjects you do not know. You are extremely talented

  4. Randolph Nichols

    “Workshops can help only if your get the guidance to find yourself (your own voice) . . . “

    I still chuckle remembering your first words of advice at last summer’s workshop in Maine: “Quit taking workshops!” (Yes, you did say that.) Though agreeing with the general premise, it’s also worth remembering that besides oftentimes being fun you actually can gain something of value from workshops. (Your suggestion -or was it a command- that I use more pigment and bigger brushes being one example.)

    One thing however I haven’t settled is the choice of a plein air easel. Since I too use a Holbein 500 metal palette I’m wondering how your new Sienna set up is working for you. Are you pleased you made the change? Does it bother you to have the box in front as opposed to the side? I’ve really got to make a decision on this before I die.

    1. frankeber Post author

      funny comment! I appreciate that….I know life is full of contradictions.
      Sorry it took a while to reply but in my defense, I am teaching in Baltimore this week and didn’t check my blog. Basically telling some other people to stop taking workshops and just paint 🙂
      As for the easel, I love the Sienna. It is a bit heavier than they advertise but works like a charm. I do oils with it too and for watercolor just put my palette on top. Their tripod is super stable and now I kind of think I should’ve bought that thing years ago..it does not bother to have the box in front, no. We are talking about six inches or so, I usually avoid being too close to the painting surface anyways…
      Good to hear you’re painting still (never had a doubt, really!)

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