Portrait Painting in Watercolor

Portrait Painting in Watercolor


While trying to improve my painting skills, I picked up Charles Reid's book on watercolor portrait painting. It has step by step instructions for trying to get a quicker, looser study of the subject. All the steps are painted separately, so you can see how minor variations are just a part of this process, that there is no exact science to watercolor, you just have to let things happen. All the lesson illustrations are painted in two simple values, light and dark, to drive home the idea of light and shadow.


There are lessons for breaking down the head, facial features, hair, hands. Then you see full portraits, black and white and in full color.  The lesson sections are broken up by pages of fuller, more complex portraits with explanations of the working process for each.


The suggestions of color mixes for skin tones entirely changed the way I was painting people. This combos are really easy and look great. 


I bought Figurative Watercolors with Charles Reid on Vimeo, and it's the perfect compliment to this book. With the book you can study still images and gain insight from the texts, but in the video you get to watch the portrait shape up close as he draws from a live model, then applies the watercolor in real time. You can see the way he mixes color, the amount of water used, how the paint responds to paper, the way color is dropped in strong and dries to a lighter color.

The table of contents opens with this great advice, "I never worry whether something like this will come off or not. I do it and put it aside and start again. Later, if it looks good, I keep it. If it's a failure, I just turn it over and work on the other side. Occasionally I think it's good for any artist to work this way. It helps you avoid treasuring your work and feeling that it's too precious. And I think it's good to avoid judging a picture right away. Do a painting and put it aside. Your eye will be much fresher later."

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The Last Nude

The Last Nude