Large Scale Portrait

I worked through Christmas on a 20×30″ watercolor portrait. I rarely do life size in watercolor, my tools are selected for the scale I work the most, which is 11×14″ or 9×12″ so it was challenging to work with little brushes.

Another adjustment comes into play, being able to keep a good distance from the work so proportions are not off. For this particular job I pre-penciled, which I do very rarely. I wanted to get detail eventhough the provided image was low resolution. 

Pictures are flat and there’s camera distortion to be compensated in “selfies” working from life is easer as you can observe in 3D and go around the subject or get closer if needed.

As I wanted to experiment before doing this project I did some practice testing with materials, color, and applications as a warm up. I did one in Prismacolor (previous post), and a couple of small watercolor, both 9×12″

Here they are: (no pre-pencil) 

Given the fact that the image they gave me is low res. I decided to go for watercolor.

For the commission,  I started with the pencil phase


I followed by inking it ​



I proceeded with a first wash and corrected the jaw line, it was too wide.


The completed first wash, dried


I applied the other layers

The final work

In the end I realized that I need a big mop brush to do a more splashy background and hair, but there is always next time! 

Likeness was good and layering I think was ok. I’ll try with a more detail reference image next time, and see what I can do. 

The Arches paper is 300lb cold press which is great for layering as much as needed and good support.

I used Daniel Smith watercolors for this.

I think I learned something 🙂 and I also need to go shopping for brushes!

I have some videos of the process in my Instagram @laurasfiatcreative

Portrait of N. in Prismacolor

Back in the 90’s my main media was color pencil. I have done portraits since I was a teen. My main focus was understanding expression, if I could feel what the person in front of me was communicating through microexpressions, gesture, the way they glanced at things, the assymetry of the face -that is a result of a recurrent emotion-… the face would become a story that unveils in front of one’s eyes. 

The story speaks about a fire inside, a flame, the longing for something. When a person smiles often, the emotion becomes imprinted even when they are not smiling. In youth, this fire is intense and it glows. In adulthood, the most common emotions have created distinct marks, cues, a wrinkle here and there.

 Every face has it’s beauty, as it has the spark of life in it. One’s role is find the “constellation” which is basically the process of understanding what makes it unique, distinct. It’s not exactly making a replica of it but to find the “points” that can be  exaggerated to achieve the likeness. The funny thing is that if you look at the specific eye or nose or hair strand you realize it’s just enough close to the original subject but it’s not a visual replica, yet it has the effect of the sum of the parts. 

That is exactly my goal, that is not a photographic likeness but it is a likeness to the “real” feel of that person. One that they recognize and say “yes, I see myself in this portrait” 

For the portrait of N the intent was to attain the expression, yet also to practice blending and bring back my old medium (prismacolor); 20 years of portraiture in different mediums. Going back to my basics feels like when you have taken a long journey and then revisit your hometown remembering places, and you find yourself walking and recalling more and more… your memories come back, muscle memory as well. How to blend, how to use the tooth of the paper and the direction of the grain, how to hold the pencil and do layering. 

For this portrait I used the Stillman and Birn beta series. The texture is rough, which allows me to create texture to the skin, what would be an equivalent to pores. As this is a 9″ x  12″ sketchbook the effect is more visible. For a full scale realistic portrait I would use the art paper 22″ x 30″ working in bigger dimension woul bring the pores effect to a more realistic scale. This drawing is more of a study to see how it takes the layering proces and I see the potential to take more abuse without breaking the grain or tearing.  Erasing ocassionally and recoloring could cause that if the paper is too thin. I got impatient with this sketch, I spent significant time on the eyes  area and less on the hair and neck but I see the possibilities now. I got over excited to finish it. On the next one I’ll put in more time.

I Welcome back my old boxes of colors, that have kept very well by the way. I have a complete set of Spectracolors which is a brand that doesn’t exist anymore, they complement my prismacolors in range. The Spectracolors had the property of being dust free and become more vibrant with more pressure in the paper. It has a satin feel to it. It’s time to get out of that box after being dormant for so long, let’s get to work! I think after many years I must have learn a thing or two that I can do different today to make it better, and to perhaps achieve the elusive goal of  “perfect portrait” one day…Not yet…!