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Tag Archives: figure

This is my second attempt of the Granddaughters at our favorite swimming place, Jury Pool. I wanted to try and capture the bright light and the feel of being at the pool in the summer. Also wanted to try and capture the landscape of the pool, people, umbrellas and building in the background. Before my advanced class left for our winter break, I asked them to create a painting with three or more people in it. They will share this painting when we start up in February.


The above watercolor sketch was done as a demo for painting little people in my landscape and beginning classes this fall.


Every year the Granddaughters and I head for Jury Pool. This painting was painted from a photo I took two years ago and features the orange and green slides. I have another started that has the pool in the background with numerous little people enjoying a hot summer day poolside. No special technique was used with this painting. I did liquid frisket some of the small design areas on the bathing suits and some of the bolts on the slides.

The above painting is of a basket/hat vendor in Mexico. About ten years ago I took a trip to a resort on the coast and watched as these vendors strolled up and down the beaches looking like gigantic clumps of baskets.

I began this painting by painting monochromatically in paynes gray. I then washed in splatters of water and allowed that value painting to run, tilting the board this way and that. I did not wash any white gouache into this and just painted the scene. After that, I added two figures and a bird to create more interest. The figures and the bird are cut out of a magazine and glued on using acrylic matte medium and water mixture.



quinachridone burnt orange


paynes gray




The above series of paintings were an experiment in value. The top three were painted using only one color. It is not as easy as it looks. I had read in several watercolor books about trying this and then painting the scene in color. I did that with the desert scene. It was very helpful  for the desert scene because the reference I used for it was very blurry and mostly mid tones. It was so bad that I could not decipher colors very well. By having done a value study, before hand, the actual color painting worked out really well.


The above is a painting I did on a grunge background. I have a tutorial for this technique here.


I had a wet canvas reference photo for this laying around for about a year. I had found it in the industrial photos and have no idea what it is. It looked too difficult for me to even attempt and the colors in the photo were really dull.  I took this on as a challenge and tried to make it a little more interesting by brightening the color and paying attention to how I rendered all the different shapes.

Thank you for visiting as I have not been as present lately.


The above painting required some planning. I had a photographic reference sent to me from my daughter of this cat laying on his back, his favorite pose. I tried to lay it out and come up with some way to paint him that might be interesting, other than just him in paint. I finally decided on using another reference photo where there were a large assortment of overlapping grasses and combined the two. I also decided to use a sheet of masa paper to enhance the texture and maybe create more interest. I have a tutorial on how to prepare and use masa paper with watercolor here.


The above is my take on a lunar landscape.


The above painting is a gouache resist. I was attempting to create a composition using shapes. I describe how to create a gouache resist here.

We just completed our yearly Watercolor Portrait Class! These artists are just amazing me with their paintings. Every single one of them just keep improving with each year that goes by.

Laura Lyndsay3

Laura Lyndsay3

We 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, too!

Leslie Vrchota

Leslie Vrchota

The next week, we discussed the general measurements of a head and the facial features. We learned to crop a photo and measure the format of our watercolor paper to be dimensionally correct to the reference. We then learned to grid each of them to help us get accurate proportions to our drawings and paintings.

Roxanne Yoquelet

Roxanne Yoquelet

Some artists included animal portraiture.

Kathy Smierciak

Kathy Smierciak

We discussed composition and where our center of interest could be located and cropped our photo appropriately. We talked about value and how we needed contrast. Some artists included figurative work.

John Kelty3

John Kelty3

We learned how to paint little people because we have a landscape class coming up and are thinking we might like to work toward including figures in our landscapes.

I was most impressed, however, with the night we explored creating a grunge background and then painted a portrait onto that background.

Any of the above paintings can be enlarged by clicking on them.

There are 62 works of art, right now, on the student Portrait page. You can access them by scrolling to the top of this post and clicking on Student Art: Watercolor Portrait 2015 or by clicking here.

Thank you, again, to all the artists who share their work here!


The above painting was done on a surface that I kind of made up myself. I have long admired paintings done on backgrounds that have been disturbed in some way, maybe by other mediums or by textures added with paper, etc. I studied several different journal artists’ videos and a couple of water media artists’ videos in order to come up with this. I like backgrounds with glued-in and sanded papers but was not able to come up with a background that the watercolor worked easily on. Those backgrounds seem to require some use of acrylics, also. I wanted to avoid that since I teach watercolor and I wanted my students to be able to experiment with this.

If you are interested, I have outlined the steps we took for creating a grunge background for our portraits.


We began by splattering or brushing on coffee. We dried this stage with a hairdryer before moving to the next application.


Next, we splattered and brushed on gesso. We did this in two different ways.  We watered down some of the gesso 50/50. That was so the marks would only partially show through the watercolor pigment. We, then, applied some of the gesso straight, knowing that our paint would slide off of it and reveal the white of the gesso. We then dried this, completely, before moving to the next stage.


In the next step, we watered down waterproof black ink and splattered that onto the paper. We could soften some of these marks by spritzing them with a spray bottle. This stage is better when you follow the less is more policy. Allow this stage to dry completely before proceeding.


After preparing the surface, we all looked for a portrait that might work well with the background we had come up with. We chose portraits just because it is a portrait class we are in right now. This kind of background would work for any subject. Once we found our portrait reference we wanted to use, we turned our splattered paper around until we found the best imagery in the splatter for what we wanted to paint on it. Note that I turned my paper around 180 degrees for my subject. We drew the portrait on in graphite.


The above is an example of my first washes. We just begin painting the portrait as we normally would.


When I arrived at this point, I began to make decisions about placing more darks and bringing the image of the toy and girl out of the background more. I really liked how the gesso and the ink added abstract effects that I had very little control over. We were able to go back in with gesso, coffee and ink if we wanted to. I was getting good results with just what I had. We also knew we could collage and use colored pencil or wax resist in areas we may need to.


The above is my finished portrait.

I hope this gives you something new to try or consider when you sit down to paint. I decided I would not be so hasty, in the future, to throw away a stained or soiled piece of watercolor paper. It may just be that it would add to a painting rather than detract!



We start every year with a portrait class. We have artists of all levels creating and painting together.  It really is fun. One thing I am always amazed by is the effort they put into portraiture. For some reason, we just can’t approach a portrait of a person or pet, that we know, without wanting that “likeness”.  I think it is that and that alone that gives portraiture the “Oh, that’s hard” label. I enjoy portraits of all kinds: abstract, distorted, funky. I try to stress that we will always capture an essence of what we are working on and that it is the body of work that counts. We artists just need to relax into the journey.  That said, this was my personal challenge this year for a portraiture likeness. This is my Brother-in-law and I will await the verdict (from those who know him) because I never know when I have rendered a likeness.

century tree

In my recent composition class, I gave an assignment asking the artists to create a tree like no tree they had ever seen before and include a number and a word or words. There were so many interesting paintings that came from this assignment. You can see some of them on the Student Page here.

The above tree is my rendition. It is a combination of watercolor, ink, rice paper collage and collage. The entire background was created, first, last year. I had wanted to do an abstract painting that resembled bark and had torn pieces of fibered rice paper and glued them to the surface using a two parts acrylic matte medium, one part water glue. I then painted the bark-like forms with browns siennas and olive greens. I pulled this bark-like thing out of my stow-aways (unfinished things) and drew a humongous trunk of a tree and reaching branches on it using waterproof ink, which I spritzed with water, before it dried. It caused the ink to spread and follow various fibers and the edges of the torn rice papers, enhancing the bark-like look and feel. I let that dry overnight. I then painted into the tree trunk with darker tones of siennas and greens and browns and let that dry overnight. I found the word “Major” running across the trunk and darkened the rambling letters with ink. You might make it out if you study it carefully. The letters are wiggly and ghost-like starting with an “M” at the base of the trunk on the left and the tails of the “R” end at the figure’s leg on the right. I added the ghost-like figure, next.  May I mention that this became all-consuming as I created and I enjoyed every minute of the time it took to ramble around this tree? There is a huge figure of a woman kneeling, made up of the left side of the trunk and spreading arms of two of the large branches. Her nipples are quite distinct as knotholes on that side. It is as though her head is tossed back and she is rejoicing in the light of day. Enlarge the piece, stand back and look for her. You may see her, too!

I found words in a magazine that I wanted to include in my tree. There are four eyes in this tree and a bird (colored black like a silhouette). Can you find them? I chose blue and gray citra solv papers to cut the leaves from and glued them on. I wanted them to have a shimmering effect. I don’t know that I achieved that, but tried. I so enjoyed working on this and wish every painting I ever created was this much fun. I felt like the imagery was giving back every bit as much as I gave to it as it changed on the surface of the paper. By far, the most enjoyable mixed media I have ever worked on.



I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with my three Granddaughters this summer.  We went to the zoo and I snapped the reference photo for this portrait right before they rode the train. I am a lucky Grandma.

In order to draw this composition, I used a simple grid.



I frame the composition that I want from the photo.  I use two “L shapes” that I have cut from a matte in order to do this. I then draw a grid over the surface of the photo dividing it into three sections vertically and horizontally. This grid helps me to draw the scene or figure in proportion. It also shows me the four areas or “sweet spots” where it is best to create a center of interest. I chose this composition because the foreground and background girls were near and in a good place for a center of interest.



I then have to measure my watercolor paper (height and width) to be proper multiples of the dimensions of my reference photo. I grid the watercolor paper (lightly) with graphite and draw my composition.  Before I begin to paint, I gently erase the grid lines with a soft eraser.

I do not grid everything I create but it helps with more difficult subject material where proportion or likeness is needed.

by Nancy Longmate

by Nancy Longmate



There is not much more I can say about this project than my friend and I are still experimenting with splatter paintings, described here and here. We have always started with a monochromatic study of our reference and then splattered or dripped clear water and color on them, before refining and adding more color. We have branched out to experiment with figures in a landscape and adding more color.

My photo, above, is a  street scene of Pirates Alley from wet canvas and a figure I found in another wet canvas reference photo. I made the dog up (fashioned it after my maltese dogs but a little larger). I will probably continue to use this figure. He is so versatile!

I was fascinated with all the abstract color in Nancy’s elephants! This is a truly adaptable technique that opens all sorts of possibilities with your personal style. It is also underscoring that about anything is possible with watercolor. It is really hard to wreck them.