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Every so often, I try drawing and painting my portrait while staring at myself in a mirror.  I had asked my portrait students to paint their self portrait for their last assignment for class. Some painted from their image in the mirror and others used a photo reference. This painting was done in an alloted time of 2 hours. I drew it, first, in line contour and used  permanent rose, naples yellow, quin burnt orange, alizarin crimson, burnt umber and Andrew’s turquoise.

Mary Smierciak3

Mary Smierciak3       Blind Line Contour

Lisa McGuffey3

Lisa McGuffey3  Blind Line Contour

Jerry Young

Jerry Young  Value Study

The above drawings are from my beginning drawing class that just finished up. Over a six week period, they worked their way through blind line contour, negative space, perspective, simple value studies and still life. They worked from both life and photo reference and learned how to use their pencils for measuring, a viewfinder for focus and a simple crosshair grid for perspective.  If you would like to view more of their drawings, click here.

David Hess

David Hess

Dianna Burt

Dianna Burt

The above paintings are examples of portraits painted in the six week watercolor portrait class that just finished up. They concentrated on facial features the first week and then worked their way through using a grid for obtaining a likeness, skin colors, color combinations, and compositon as it pertains to portraiture. The last night of class was devoted to painting a self portrait. If you would like to view more of their work click here.

Thankyou to all the students who have contributed their art to be viewed here.


Let me say, this is not me but one of my Granddaughters with her Grandpa. I wanted to try and capture that moment when, we, as Grandparents, get to share those first moments of our Grandchildren finding out they can read.

I also wanted as close to a likeness as I could get because I was going to paint family members. I’ve worked, for years, trying to achieve likenesses and find it one of the most challenging, yet rewarding and fun exercises in painting in watercolor.

I do not like taking the time to make a grid or a value sketch, but did so with this particular portrait, in the hopes that it would help me achieve likenesses.


I began by gridding my reference photograph into 9 equal rectangles. You can grid your photos in squares all over the page if you want, but I decided to keep it simple by dividing my photo, vertically and horizontally, in thirds.


The next step was to size a piece of my watercolor paper to multiples of the same dimension as the reference I was using. I did this by setting the reference photo in one corner of the watercolor paper. Then I placed a yardstick  along the diagonal of the reference photo (corner to corner) and marked a point I wanted along the diagonal of that yardstick. Are you following me? You can make the size of your painting any size you want but in order to get the image proportionately correct, when you draw it, your format must be a multiple of the dimensions of the reference photo. Rather than do a lot of math, I choose to do this. Once you mark that point, you then draw a vertical line and horizontal line from that point to the edge of your watercolor paper and you have a multiple of the dimensions of the reference photo.  If you grid a piece of watercolor paper without the same dimensions as the reference photo, your image will end up as a distortion of the original.


Then I divided that format into thirds, vertically and horizontally, to match the grid I made on the reference photo


and drew, as best I could what I saw fall into each rectangle. This helps with proportion, especially any foreshortening that may be present, as well as diagonals. It really helped me with getting Grandpa’s glasses correct.


The above is something I rarely do, but have discovered, recently, that I am getting a little better at drawing quick value sketches. I did this because I wanted to be able to see, more dramatically, the areas that I may want to leave very light so I would get the effect of light in my finished painting. Note….my sketch is not proportionately correct nor is it detailed. I think that is what always stumped me with these before. I just said I wanted to see some essence of the light pattern I may be able to get with this.

Then I began painting. Hope this helps anyone out there to try this if they are really searching for likenesses in their paintings. There is still a whole lot that goes into a likeness when you apply your pigment, but this is a start that may help.

Below is the progression of this painting:

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The above portrait is one of the most fun paintings I have done in a while. I worked mostly light to dark and wet to dry to paint the entire image.


I began by doing a line drawing assisted by the use of crosshairs like I described in this post, previously. Prior to painting, erase the crosshairs.


I then used liquid frisket to save the highlights in the eyes, nose, chin and on the dog’s nails. I painted the undercoat of the bars a rusty red, waited for it to dry and frisketed many areas of them so the rust marks would show in the finished painting. I painted the light colored boards on the stall to the left and then used wet-in-wet applications to define the texture of the sawdust on the stall floor.


I painted the blues and reds of the stall boards wet-in- wet. I washed in some of the colors of the doberman trying to retain the light that hit the front part of his muzzle as well as defined the rounded forms of his face. I applied the first washes to his eyes.


I finished the dog’s head, began the paw on the left and pads on the right paw.  I spent a lot of time defining the nose. I began with wet-in-wet applications of color on the nose and finished with darker colors wet on dry. I knew I wanted the nose and paws to have more definition because they were the closest forms to the viewer. I also painted the wood grain on the bottom of the painting with the use of the edge of a flat brush and applying the pigment wet on dry. I also worked on darkening the eye and defining it furthur.


I finished the dog’s paws, painting wet-in-wet, first, and then detailing wet on dry with a tiny brush. I darkened or shadowed the background walls of the stall with a lightened wash of sepia and defined the stall ledge with blues I had used on the background. I strengthened and deepened the color of the dog’s head by scumbling more of the same oranges, yellows and browns into him. This furthur defined his forms and shape and gave him more of a 3-D look.


I used a combination of prussian blue, violet and neutral tint to paint the blacks on the stall bars and waited for that to dry. I painted a thin shadow under the metal strip running across the painting at the bottom.


In this step I erased all the frisket with a “rubber pick up”. The rubber pick up looks like a square eraser and can be found in most art supply stores for the purpose of lifting the frisket from watercolors.

dobieinstall  finished painting

To finish the painting I got rid of the stark hard edges from the frisket on the bars by running a wet brush over them, several times, until the colors blended more and the edges softened. This drags some of the blackened colors into the lighter reds and yellows and softens that frisketed look. I then painted a shadow under the upper eyelid of the right eye on the dog and painted his whiskers in with a rigger brush. I darkened the highlight on the bar to the right of the dog’s head with some copper kettle and raw sienna. I added some soft blue to the underside of the dog’s eye to soften the prominent highlight there on his face. I touched up the detailing on the nose and his nails, darkened his chin and called it finished.

I thank Caron Steinmetz from Paint My Photo for the photo reference for this painting.

Carol King asked a very good question in the comment section about what kind of frisket I use and how I apply it.


Above is a photo of the supplies I often use. Left to right is a natural rubber pick up, Incredible White Mask, Pebeo Drawing Gum, jar of brush cleaning soap and a 2/0 liner brush.

I dampen the surface of the brush cleaning soap by spritzing it a couple of times with my squirt bottle. I wet my liner brush in the water glass and then swish it in the brush cleaner a couple times (I do not coat it thickly with the soap). Coating the hairs of the brush with a gentle soap helps to keep the frisket from sticking to the hairs of the brush and damaging them. I then dip my brush in the frisket (my frisket of choice is the Pebeo Drawing Gum because it is the thinnest and the easiest I have found to work with and does not clump as quickly on the end of my brush). A close second to this frisket is the Incredible White Mask (I have also used it effectively). I then quickly paint the frisket in the areas of the painting I want to save either the white on or, in this case, the red areas of those black bars you see in the above painting. This also requires that I rinse and repeat the soaping and frisket dipping as often as needed to prevent the end of my brush getting clumped up with dried rubbery clumps of frisket. When you work with it, you will know what I mean by that. The frisket, in small amounts, on your brush, can dry rather quickly, so you constantly have to stay ahead of that occurring. Sometimes I have to stop and strip dried frisket off the end of the brush with my fingers. If you are allergic to latex, use gloves when touching this substance. The friskets I pictured, here, have latex in them. Depending on the amount of frisket you use, it takes anywhere from five to fifteen minutes to dry before you can continue painting in order to prevent smeering it. I have also used frisket to splatter a painting. It is very effective for rendering falling snow. In that case, I use a little larger round brush. Warning!  It is not effective to use liquid frisket on large areas as it will often tear the paper. The frisket tends to shrink as it dries those  and you can damage the surface when you remove it. I just save the whites of larger areas by painting around them and softening the hard edges with a damp brush. If you really need to save a large white area by masking, it is advisible to use masking paper found in most art supply stores. Always recap your bottle of frisket immediately following use or it will dry up in the bottle.  Hope this helps you get started on trying the frisket in your paintings.



I created the above paintings from photo references that my sister took of my Granddaughters while they played hide and seek after my daughter’s wedding.  Thank you to my sister for allowing me to paint from them.

I love the technique I used to create them so will share how I created the top one with you.


In the first step, I toned a piece of 140lb Arches coldpress with abstract color. I had to get this layer dark enough so it would show through the rice paper I was going to glue on top of it.


I then covered the entire surface with torn pieces of textured and transparent rice papers, overlapping them as I went. I mixed my glue with 1 part water to 3 parts acrylic matte medium. This created numerous textures over the surface of my abstract. I applied the glue on the underside of the papers and thinly over the top side of them with my brush, making sure I pushed any air bubbles from under the papers. I allowed this stage to dry overnight.


I then drew my subject on the format in graphite. Yes. You can erase, easily, on this surface.


I painted.


…and painted


…and painted.

I really enjoyed this surface. It was much like when I paint on toned Masa Paper pieces. I found I could lift and blend color if it dried too flat looking.  Some of the pigment would trail along a torn piece of the rice paper and add more texture.  Sometimes when I rubbed my brush over a dried painted area, interesting textures would show through like in the lower right hand quadrant of the second little girl, above. The glow of the original underpainting showed through in some areas, adding to the piece.

Shhh! finished painting

To finish the painting I added white gouache to the larger girl’s dress and veil. In the second painting I added the white gouache to leaf forms and tiny flowers.  I chose to fade the bottom of both pieces to show the textures of the papers and make the paintings appear significant of a memory.

I liked this technique enough to want to do more of them.



Henn Laidroo2     by Henn Laidroo


Nancy Longmate2  by Nancy Longmate

The above paintings were done as part of assignments for a six week course in composition.

We studied creating a center of interest and learning where to  place it on our format.  The students created different formats to paint on such as squares and long and narrow rectangles. They explored emphasizing one or more elements in their paintings to attract a viewer’s attention. These elements included simplification, exaggeration, repetition, emphasizing the focal point, movement and contrast. They created paintings by combining two or three photographs. They also created portraits or figures utilizing the guidelines of composition.

Please check out the results of our class by visiting the “Student Art 2” page  here.

Thank you, once again, to all my students for a great class!


Olly is my friend’s  husband’s dog. He is also a friend to Hailey, featured in the previous post. I really enjoyed painting these two collies. Olly is the Rough Coat Collie, like Lassie of TV fame. The one thing I had to concentrate on, throughout painting him, was that his painting may hang with the one I did of Hailey.  This is why I faced him left. That way, when they hung on the wall,  they would face each other. The other thing I had to be aware of is that they would look better if paintied in much the same style, using the same color scheme. That is why the background is the same and I approached sculpting the forms of his face similar to the way I painted Hailey. I have never attempted something like this before, so that was a learning experience.


Above is my initial drawing. I had to draw him twice. The first attempt was way off!  I had trouble with getting the length and width of his nose correct. I used cross hairs the second time and that did the trick. My perspective had been off.


Olly had white hairs running through his coat, so I frisketed those. I also frisketed the highlight in his eyes as well as the lighter areas to either side of his iris and began adding the first tentative strokes of color.


This step was largely sculpting the nose forms and studying where I would need to have lighter color under darker color. I felt a need to establish the darkness of the eye because many of the darks in Olly’s coat matched the values found in his eyes. I pinked the nose as my initial step on that and pinked the shapes on the inside of his ears. These were all the lighter colors I saw under and around the darker values I had yet to render.


In this step, I did most of my painting. I frisketed the pink dots on Olly’s nose. I darkened the areas of dark coat in the way I read the patterns. I frisketed more of the long hairs from his ears so the would show up after laying in the background. I, then painted the background in. I knew I’d need to do that so I could finish my darks in his ears and his nose and have the correct value tones. So many times, I have painted the background in, only to find I had to retouch the portrait because the background lightened the foreground dramatically. At this stage, I always know how I am going to finish a painting. I have enough information down and it is just a matter of detailing and getting the darks to read right.

Olly  finished painting

In the last step I  detailed the darks in the ears and painted in some of the white hairs that poked out from around them. I detailed the nose and mouth, darkened the darker portions of pattern in his coat, erased the frisket and worked on softening some of the edges around those frisketed patches.  I darkened the whites on either side of his iris and painted a faint shadow under the upper lid of his eye. I added the whiskers with a rigger.  The last thing I did was shadow the coat under Olly’s chin with a mixture of the blue I used for the background and a light touch of the browns I had used. I also shadowed the white patch of his coat in the lower right hand corner for balance.

A huge thank you to my friends for sending me the photos to use for reference, so I could paint these two beautiful dogs!    🙂



This is Hailey. She is a service dog of a very dear friend of mine. I have wanted to paint her for some time. Her owner was kind enough to send me multiple images of her to be able to pull this off. I was intrigued by her skeletal structure and her dignified expression. I have to admit that I had to use my piece of acrylic with the crosshairs drawn on them to get her long nose right. I kept wanting to shorten the nose on the initial attempts at drawing her. You can find out more about that drawing technique here.

Here are my steps in painting her:


I drew her with the use of the piece of acrylic with crosshairs, mentioned above. I payed careful attention to the linear forms of shadow throughout her face and ears. I knew I would need those lines, carefully placed, in order to render her contours and form accurately.


This was the longest stage of the painting for me. I worked very slowly. I used small round brushes with very light washes and worked from very light to dark. She is so lightly colored and I did not want to “botch it” and have to begin over.  The smallest brush I used was a #1 round. The largest was a #8 round. I applied liquid frisket on the highlight areas on her nose and eyes and some on that thin strip of a blaze on the bridge of her nose. I chose raw sienna, naples yellow, sepia, some burnt sienna, permanent rose, and blue stone as my colors. I made the grays with mixtures of blue stone, permanent rose and a raw sienna. The raw sienna and permanent rose were very watered down as they were added to the blue stone.


Prior to finishing the details in a painting, I usually work in the background. I know the addition of a darker background will lighten the appearance of the colors in the subject.  This gives me an opportunity to go back into the portrait and darken what I need to and refine the details. Prior to washing in the background, I frisketed Hailey’s ruff around her neck, so the texture of her hair will show up in the finished portrait. I then worked blue stone washes around Hailey’s head and into the shadows of her ruff with a #12 round. I find areas within the positive shape to include the background color  so the painting looks more balanced and not like a cut out of a dog pasted on a background. The whole time I work my washes, I make choices about what edges I will leave hard and take the time to soften all the others with a damp or thirsty brush.

Hailey  finished painting

The above step is what I call finishing and balancing. I went back into some of the yellows and darkened some of the forms and enhanced some of the contours with lightened or watered down sepia. I detailed the grays around the muzzle and defined the shadows around her ruff. While the frisket was still on, I darkened and detailed the nose and went back into the eye and darkened it and detailed the pigment of the lids. I darkened her lips, freckles and the dots for the whiskers. I removed the frisket around the eyes and nose and washed light color into some of them so they did not appear so dark. Notice difference of highlights on the nose and the highlight in the eyes. I darkened the tips and dark line around the ears. I softened the pinks in the ears with very light washes of sepia. I then removed the frisket on the ruff. I did not have to go back into that area to soften the edges. Sometimes I do have to do that. The last thing I did was add the whiskers with sepia and a small rigger.

I hope, by including my steps, there might be something you can use in your own portrait attempts.

A heartfelt thankyou to my friend for sharing this beautiful dog with me so I could paint her.

I am trying out a new paper. It is Lanaquerelle 140 lb rough. I like it. A lot! It is a little softer than Arches rough and seems to stay wet longer, allowing me to play with washes a little longer. I have also painted on this namebrand’s coldpress paper in the same weight and like it, too.  I just wish it was not more expensive. How many times, my lifetime, have I heard, “You get what you pay for”.

The above is from a reference photo provided by a friend. The black hues were created using harvest gold, alizarin crimson and prussian blue, in that order. The grays were made with lighter shades (watered down) of the same colors. I am playing around with using other colors to make colors I want rather than rushing to the tube color every time I paint.


I painted the above portrait of a Welsh Mountain Pony from a photo reference by Gary Jones from the Paint My Photo site.

I used liquid frisket to create the mane and the whiskers. I created the remainder of the portrait with a limited palette of harvest gold, prussian blue, burnt sienna, sepia and permanent rose. The twist of the neck, the shapes around her muzzle and the mane were challenges I wanted to try to capture with this portrait.