Sculpt with Your Paint

When I am painting a face, I think of myself as sculpting.  With watercolor, I need to work light to dark, yet I am still adding layers of color to build up and mold the structure of the face.

One key to a good portrait is to start with an image that has strong values. Strong value changes help the artist model the face, creating three dimensions.  Photos taken to be a good photography portrait generally are taken with the flash or light source head on – washing out all the value changes.  A good photo to use as a reference for a painting would have a strong light source from a single direction, frequently taken outside or from a light designed to provide.


In this painting of an African American woman at the market, based on a photo I took several years ago, I start on my paper with layers of rich color.  These layers provide the foundation that I will build on as I continue my painting.  I use a complementary color scheme, which I frequently use in my paintings. In this case, I am using purples, yellows and oranges. 

At this stage, I want to kill the white of the paper – to get the paper covered with some paint.  I am not paying attention to edges, and I know that I will be losing some of the edges in the final painting. 

I always start painting features with the eyes – I want to be working with a real person who I can connect with, and the sooner I get eyes into the painting, the sooner I can connect with my subject.

Once I get some of the features in, its time to start sculpting – layering color on to get a rich, dense tone.  I don’t mix color on my palette – the colors in the painting are far richer if I glaze layers of color over each other, so the layers of color below come through.

Finally, I fine tune the painting.  I am always checking my drawing to make sure that it is still accurate.  I crop the painting and check the values using the Value Viewer app.