Learn how to do some easy watercolor portrait sketching in my recent workshop. I show you how to sketch any portrait in 10-15 minutes!
In this workshop, we will try something a little different. We’ll be sketching simple portraits from a variety of photos. you can use my techniques and processes yourself on any reference photo of your choosing.
When completing any sketch, I always try to enjoy the process – favoring expedience, experimentation, and composition over accuracy. Some of my most interesting paintings or ideas have come out of a simple sketch. Sometimes you can slave away over a sketch, only to realize that you would have preferred a different composition or representation.
I use sketching as a way to loosen up, warm up, and more importantly – as a way to practice, and learn new techniques. You can experiment with different color compositions, concepts, and layering that you normally would avoid in a more full-scale painting. So much of what I know about color, tone, and my confidence in carrying out specific watercolor techniques can be attributed to the various sketches I’ve completed.
With the portrait sketches below, I practiced getting in an estimation of the subject’s facial features and completing a quick sketch in pencil. I look at the size and spacing of the eyes, position of the nose, lips and add some division and light guidelines before I start painting.
The speed that I draw and paint allows me to approach each painting loosely and freely, without too much attention to the reference. Many beginners can be intimidated by portrait painting as they feel that achieving a ‘likeness’ of the subject is too difficult. I agree that portrait painting is difficult, in fact, one of the most difficult subjects I can think of in watercolors. However, as a beginner, you have to remember that you are a painter and not a human photo-copying machine! You will not be able to achieve 100% likeness in most cases, otherwise, you might as well take a photo.
I like to add some of my own style and creativity into a portrait, perhaps emphasizing shadows or elements not present in the original reference photo. I find sketching to be the perfect way to experiment with this in a low-pressure environment.
Painting wet-in-wet can greatly speed up the progress of your painting as well as provide you with an opportunity to create soft shadows and transitions, something that is present in a lot of portraits, especially when painting skin. You can see below how I’ve added a combination of soft shadows while the first layer of paint was still wet, and some sharper shadows later.