|"A Woman in Black" (watercolor, 12" x 9")|
I decided to blog about my online Zoom classes with the Art League in Alexandria, VA. This is what we did in the sixth week of the fall term, 2021 in my "Watercolor Portraits" class.
This week's lesson was painting a profile portrait in full palette. My starting point for skin tones of all races is cadmium red. For the area lit by the sun, I add a yellow (in the color swatches below, you will see cadmium yellow pale, Winsor lemon, and quinacridone gold; you can also use yellow ochre by Daniel Smith).
For the area in shadow, I add cobalt blue. I never use the staining Winsor blue or the granulating French ultramarine blue. However, I may use ultramarine blue in the neck, or to mix a rich dark for the eyebrows, nostrils, etc. For the highlights in the face and neck, to suggest the sky color, I use a diluted cobalt turquoise light (Winsor Newton).
Skin tones may look all brown to you. For that, I rarely use burnt sienna (Daniel Smith) or burnt umber; instead, I mix my own brown with red and permanent sap green. When I need a cooler red, I use permanent rose or permanent alizarin crimson. A bit of cobalt blue added to crimson is useful for the shadows in the face. For the neck, I may use ultramarine blue.
The portrait painting is all about recognizing the plane changes (in the forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, chin, neck, etc.) and rendering them in paints of the right hue, temperature, value and intensity. A little understanding of human head anatomy is a huge plus, but you can paint a believable portrait without knowing all the anatomical names. Observation is the thing!
The subject in this week's exercise is wearing a black outfit and hair scarf; her hair is black with silver hairs. I have two blacks on my palette: ivory black (warm black) and neutral tint by Daniel Smith (cool black). I never use blacks to deepen or darken skin tones or anything else.
I generally start the portrait with the background by wetting the negative space thoroughly and dropping the chosen colors. I used ultramarine blue on the left side and cerulean blue on the right. Always apply a variegated/graduated wash for the background (from top to bottom and/or from left to right). This rule applies to landscapes, still lifes, etc. If needed, do another layer (this technique is also called wet glazing). I pulled the background colors to the hair, scarf, and outfit to minimize the cut-out look.
I began to develop the face and neck using the above-mentioned colors, patiently adding a layer after another. As long as the paper is bone dry, you can glaze as many layers as you wish to get the right value and color.
I talked a great deal about soften the edges. In a watercolor portraiture, the mastery of edge control is paramount because if you don't do anything, watercolor painted on dry paper always dries with a hard edge. Since I don't generally paint the skin tones wet on wet, I have to do my best to soften the edges: put down a tone and immediately rinse the brush, remove the excess water in the brush on paper towel; with the damp (thirsty) brush, I soften the edge(s). If your brush is dripping wet, you are asking for trouble!
I showed you how to paint the hair, scarf, black sweater, and violet blouse by painting the entire shapes (which then becomes the highlight), let the paper dry, and go back with more paints and paint around the highlights (when necessary, softening edges). Repeat the process as many times as necessary to get the right tone. Black is the darkest tone, so you many need a few layers. Never use too much paint at one go to reduce the necessity for glazing. For the violet blouse, by the way, I used a two layers of Winsor/dioxazine violet.