This is a progressive tutorial on how I did a watercolor of “Addie”, size: 23X13. Paper: I always use Arches and typically 140 lb. cold press. The weight of this paper works better in my experience, as it holds water well without a lot of puddling and it takes scrubbing and mult -layering somewhat better than 200-300 pound. Always begin with a decent pencil sketch, not too heavy as to show thru later and not too light so that you lose your lines in the washes. Also…very important to tape down the paper with white masking as opposed to colored, the color can be a definite distraction. Keep your water tray in front of you with a large sponge submerged inside, great for removing excess water from your brush. Using a towel to remove excess pigment from your brush is very helpful as well in controlling the amount of water/pigment. Practice with this, you will see what I mean.
The sketch is in place (composition is a must as you know, in portraiture) and I use miskit to mask out all the areas I want to leave white. In this particular painting, I did an experiment with gradually masking over painted areas throughout the various stages of the painting to give variety to the values of color. Key note on miskit: don’t bother with using brushes first dipped in soap and then the loathsome attempt of rescuing the brush for re-use. I have found that a rubber tipped nib works great as well as a thick darning needle-excellent for thin lines. Even spattering with a toothbrush works well, so long as you use good control and know exactly where you want those light areas to be. Allow plenty of drying time for the masking fluid before applying water. If you know that your background will be dark, put your signature in with miskit as well.
Using a 2″ kolinsky brush (they hold sooooo much water!) I wet down the entire face area. Then using a 1 1/2″ flat brush I used a mix of paynes gray and cobalt in a creamy consistency, began applying the color working light to dark. The great thing about watercolor is that depending on the amount of dilution, the same color can carry a little or a lot of pigment without the addition of more colors. When adding a stronger value, it’s a good idea to stroke the brush on the back side of your hand to test the liquidity, make sure the paint is “tight” and doesn’t allow for flowing or “blossoms”. The number one rule of watercolor is: if the shine is gone from the paper….STOP!! Wait for the paper to completely dry (you can use a hairdryer to speed it up, however it may lighten the true color of the pigment) and then you may add more washes to achieve the exact values you desire. Truly, technique in watercolor is all about managing the water itself. Never puddle your paper, brush on your initial wet areas with care, as if you are actually “painting”.
In this step, you can see that after allowing the paint to dry, I have added more masking fluid to the face to retain some of those lighter tones. Once dry, simply repeated the same colors using more saturation especially in the hair and around the eyes using a round fine point brush combined with shaders. You can really see the whites beginning to pop at this point. I then added a bit of magenta to the cobalt to come up with a violet tone to lay in the hairline and some of the shadowed areas of the face.
Background: Typically a background would be the final stage of a watercolor painting. However, in this case, knowing that the floating hairs in front of the face would most likely be left white (yes I change my plans in mid gear sometimes) it was important to block in the background now. Using the wet on wet technique again, I repeated the same colors using the wide wash brush FULL of paint using a criss- cross technique. Walk away, grab a sandwich, this takes quite some time to dry.
With the background washed in you now get a great visual of your highlights, even with the masking fluid still in place. This is where I “tweak” the painting, generally going wet into dry, moving the color around and fading the edges of the additional washes as I go. There is so much manipulation you can do in the wet into dry technique to achieve exactly what you were going for and it is really good time to pop in complimentary colors at this point. After everything is completely dry (and your paper will not feel “cool”…( a good rule to use to check for moisture level) you will start to remove your miskit…for the magic! You can buy the erasers for this but what works much faster and doesn’t smear the thicker paint that may be below, is to use masking tape…low tack. Simply ball up the masking tape and gently use a pulling action at the masking sites. This was a discovery passed on to me by a dear friend who really knows his watercolors and I wish I would have had this tip years ago. Once the masking fluid has all been removed, it is time to scrub out a bit of the harshness of the lines (yes, there are “scrubbers” out there in all sizes, be sure to buy them and use them with a light touch, you will love them), apply soft color over other parts of them and make the true reveal of your painting.
This particular size of paper leads to a generally “larger than life” head shot and has a great impact when hanging on a wall in a 3″ mat. I like to use either start white or plain black for portraits depending on the tones of the portrait itself. Keeping the matting simple on a watercolor leads your eye to your target…the painting and not the mat. So, in closure, manage your water and you will have a successful watercolor painting regardless of your subject. I hope this helps one or many of you to attempt a medium that you wanted to try, but were just afraid to take the plunge. Enjoy yourself!!