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Tiger Eyes

Horse Mouth

Recently I began a watercolor portrait class. When I have taught this class, in prior years, we have jumped right in and begun drawing and painting the whole portrait. About halfway through each class I begin to get questions about how to: paint an eye, paint a nose, paint a mouth. This year I decided to begin the class a little different and demonstrated how I paint an eye and a nose. How there is not much to either but that we rarely take time to study them, separately, in previous classes. This year we took an entire week to just paint pieces and parts of the face and it has made a huge difference. We discussed how much brighter our colors were if we mixed them on the paper as opposed to the palette. We worked with layering the colors on the paper, or mingling them wet-in-wet and came up with examples like the above. Note the various colors to make the grays in the horse’s mouth or the indications of red and gold in the tiger’s black stripes. Both those colors were created with layers of varying reds, yellows and blues. We discussed the varying shades of reds and yellows and blues we had available to create skin tones and how much more vibrant those tones were when we painted them wet-in-wet and reserved the darker tones for the shadows or the rosey colors for the cheeks.Β  We talked about shadows cast under the eyelid, on an eye, or under the upper lip on the teeth.

Next we put these pieces and parts together and just created faces. That seemed to get this class rolling and there have been fewer problems with face parts as a result. I created the following faces:

Child’s Face

Woman’s Face

Man’s Face


  1. So much fun to see your samples, Leslie! My favorite are the man eyes. Both samples are very intense. When I paint children, they look 40, so I like seeing the baby features, too. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Beth! One thing that helped me with painting babies is that the eyes are more than halfway down from the top of the head. The baby’s face takes up a very small portion of the space of the head. I almost hate to say this, but I always think of bubble shapes when I think of a baby’s head and go from there. Their features are not real prominent like the chin and jaw.

  2. Interesting! The tiger’s face can well be a subject for a bigger painting, it will look majestic, dont you think?

  3. Great idea for teaching portraiture, Leslie. The horse teeth made me smile. All of your parts came together in beautiful whole faces. Wonderful!

  4. The teacher is learning as well as the students. Great idea about teaching sections of the face. I really do want to take your classes. πŸ™‚ The horse’s mouth was both scary and great!

    • I am learning. It bothers me when I can’t come up with ideas to help others learn some of what I can share. Ha! I remember what you said about horses being scarey. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  5. These are so great! I am particularly amazed by the horse mouth, which is such a difficult thing, particularly with the teeth. Eek! Your finished faces have so much personality!

    Oh my gosh, I TOTALLY need a class for the parts of the face. I think my experimenting is going pretty well, with things in the right place, but still quite flat. It’s a whole other kettle of fish with pen and ink, because I have to choose whether to use the black liner to do shading, and then choose whether to do hatching or another technique. Which is scary. So 2D for now! πŸ™‚

    • I think your experimenting is going extremely well, Cindy. I can identify with what you say about pen and ink and it being another kettle of fish. To get the 3-D I work on my cross contours and value scale. Maybe that will help you come up with an idea of how to use your pens to change value and include contours. Anything that would change the values a little like a little darker of the same color. Does layering the same color work?
      Thank you!

  6. These faces are alive, Leslie (love that dreamily look). They have so much personality. I wish I could follow your classes too.

    • Thank you, Hannekekoop. I’d probably suggest you teach a class with our group in creative drawing. You are so talented!

  7. Leslie, this was a good approach. I took a drawing class at the Indianapolis Art Center a few years ago and we only spent two or three weeks working on faces. He started with practice on each idividual feature before we did an entire face and it was very effective. Love the work you’re doing on color. I have thinking about going back to just a primary palette for my more realistic paintings. Once again, you show beautiful color and great technique.

    • Thank you for giving me that information about having studied the features, alone. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner! Lately, I have been using the primary colors a lot. Haven’t even thought about it much, even.

  8. Ahhhh ! wish I was closer and I would sign up for your classes! These are so fun, and I think your approach is fabulous!

    • It would be fun to get together and paint with my blogger friends, Isabelle. Thank you for that!

  9. Those tiger eyes say a lot in just a few strokes.

  10. What a great idea. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the complexity of the facial components, so breaking it down before hand may make the attempt at the whole less intimidating.

    • Thank you, Ruth. It sure helped me to do these and I think I am going to do portions of portraits like eyes and noses and mouths when I work on commissions of pets. I actually “saw” more when I worked this way.

  11. Hi Leslie! Good to see your keeping it up! πŸ™‚ I like these faces, especially the womans face. Her eyes looks very warm and caring.
    This post makes me think of something my sister gave me when she finished high school. She took a drawing class, and they recieved som sheets of paper stapled toghether with all these drawings of different eyes, noses, ears and mouths on it. I still look at it sometimes and practice drawing them, but the result is not very good. Maybe if I took on of your classes? πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Camilla. I think learning to draw from another’s drawings is often more tedious than learning to see and record what “you” see. I have had students copy a drawing or painting by a known artist from time to time. I think the exercise tells them something about the artist, the time it may have taken and, hopefully, help them to realise that their own creation is so much more of themselves. If a student is able to see improvement in his or her work? They are hooked. Look at your eye or ear in a mirror and draw them, once a day, for five days. See if you get better. πŸ™‚

        • Camilla
        • Posted October 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm
        • Permalink

        Cool! I have to try that! Maybe I’ll get a little bit better πŸ™‚

  12. I love your eye Leslie. In fact they’re all so well done. I’m using you as a mentor for my own students here in England

    • Thank you for this award, mypenandme.

      • You’re very welcome, Leslie. I look forward to your future posts. πŸ™‚

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Watercolor Portrait: Fall 2015 | Leslie White on 21 Oct 2015 at 1:49 pm

    […] began the class by studying and painting parts of portraits. We discussed what things on a face define the likeness of someone. Some practiced hands, […]

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