Tag Archives: watercolor portrait

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!

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Aspirations of an artist

‘Nowhere in the world of art education has technique been so foolishly substituted for true meaning, self expression, and knowledge as in the field of watercolor’
Edward Reep, 1983 (from the book Content of Watercolor)

Harsh words from Mr. Reep, but he has a point. Students often don’t seem to move on from materials and technique. Part of the problem is that people seem to think they learn how to paint by attending workshops. I don’t mean to downplay that a workshop can help. Some just take so many or even worse, some actually only paint in workshop settings, never anywhere else! The art of painting is learned by painting!

Well, it all depends on what goals we have, doesn’t it? I guess it’s ok to just paint as a pastime. However, I think that someone who paints three times a year should not have the right to call themselves an artist, any more so than someone who thinks they’re a musician when they only play their instrument every leap year and otherwise just listen to music.
To think and talk about painting doesn’t count. To look at painting images on facebook doesn’t either. We actually have to do it.

The more we paint, the closer we get to the real reason of why we paint. We no longer focus on the ‘how’ but more on the ‘why’.

When we start it’s quite normal that we’re preoccupied with technique and materials. We inhale ‘how to paint this and that’-books and attend workshops. We have to start somewhere. After a while, the focus starts shifting. At least in theory.

As the years go by I started thinking more and more about why I paint. In the beginning I even had problems articulating it, or finding a good reason at all! Sure, I used to be a professional illustrator. Sure, I painted since I was a child on and off. Sure, I studied painting with an Italian master painter, etc. etc. But are those real reasons? Motivation enough to keep at it today, after all these years? Do I love it that much?

Everyone should ask themselves the question why they paint, I think. Painting ultimately should be about expression. A painter, even a representational painter, needs to have a vision that goes beyond copying shapes that we encounter in nature or take pictures of. We need to have something to say with our art. It’s a different path for each and everyone of us. It’s a different life for each and every one of us. Therefore our art and what we express should be highly personal and intimate. Despite social media, painting will remain a solitary pursuit where only the end product is shared with others and even that is not for certain.

Keep it that way.

Less is more

This is a head study of a girl. Doing these in watercolor is just great! So much fun with the stuff running all over the paper, me desperately trying to control it and make it go where I think it should. Did I say it’s a ton of fun? I must be nuts..
If you look closely, you’ll notice all the techniques the medium has to offer. Soft, uncontrolled washes to hardest edge and drybrush and everything else in between. I particularly like how her mouth came out, since I didn’t really paint the left side at all. I got a highlight by painting around a section on her lower lip with the second glaze and as I squinted to check my values, I noticed that the mouth is already there!
I painted some of this at Studios on the park, where I am a visiting artist this month and some of the other painters came in to look. They all said, ‘don’t do anything else – it’s done’.. They were right!

Watercolor is at it’s best if you manage to make it look as if there’s something there. The more we paint every little detail and try to make it look more like the photograph or model, the tighter it starts to look and pretty soon it’s overworked. Makes you wanna run back to oil painting, doesn’t it? Not really…

Girl portrait

Skin tones are tricky business. It must not look like a doll or lifeless. The light situation, the person’s ethnicity all plays a role, of course. Base colors for skin are cobalt blue, magenta and hansa yellow. Multiple glazes must be applies to achieve depth and shape. Facial features are applied with a cross-hatch technique, almost like in graphite drawing. There it is again, the good ol’ drawing skill…
The lightest light is the white of the paper; all around the girl, her shoulders, hand and hair. I applied the background and some of her dress with gouache paint.
In portraiture, the important part is to capture the personality or character of a person. Likeness is important as well, but the former more so.

I feel these can still be much better. I also like to do more with the backgrounds and the story. The farmer is such a painting. Small time farmers are a dying breed. Like the landscapes we paint, they slowly disappear. Landscapes turn into ugly, gated McHousing developments and farming is run by huge corporations who push family farms out of business. Don’t get me started..