Wow, it seems like it's been years since I've posted here. Wait a minute ... it has been. Sadly, I put my brushes away for a while, but I'm slinging paint again, and feeling inspired to post some tips that have helped me along the way. These are really practical tips, and mostly for beginners. And also, while some of the tips apply to other mediums, as well, I am talking specifically here about watercolor portraits.
Okay, here we go:
- When you first start out, use photo references of people you don't know. I say this because the tendency is to grab photos of your loved ones, your kids, your friends, and family members. But the thing is, you're attached to those people, and you're going to want to make the portraits perfect, and you're going to be worried too much about the likeness, and you're going to get frustrated. If you start out with people you don't know, you don't worry so much about the outcome. And that will help you to loosen up.
- Learn the basics of watercolor first. Spend some time studying, and experimenting, with how the paint moves in the water, experiment with edges, how to soften them, and play around with the paper. Experiment with laying the paint onto dry paper, and then onto wet. Get more comfortable with the stages of wetness that the paper goes through once the water/paint is laid down.
- Use artist quality paper. I can't stress this enough. With the paints, you can get away with using student paints, but if you don't use a good watercolor paper, such as Arches, you're not going to be able to judge your progess well, because many of the mistakes won't even be your fault, it will be the fault of the paper. So you'll give yourself a huge headstart if you go with artist quality watercolor paper. If you're worried about the expense of it, watch for sales, and remember that you can use the back of the paper, as well. If you mess it up, turn it over and use the other side. Or use the back sides of discarded paintings for practice sheets, to experiment on.
- Practice your drawing, especially on features like eyes, noses, and lips. That being said, if you can't draw well starting out, don't feel bad about tracing. Do whatever you need to do to get the drawing on paper.
- Paint a lot.
- Play a lot. Learn to loosen up and let go, and not worry so much about the results. Play with color, and tone, and form.
- Study other watercolor artists, and learn from them. Try some of their styles out, see what you like, and this will help you to find your own style.
- Study faces. Watch people (maybe don't let them see you watching! haha), notice the different colors and shapes in faces.
- And my last tip, really is the one I would stress the most, learn to accept the ugly stage. Every painting has one. But don't give up, push on through, and see what happens. Be easy on yourself--there really is nothing serious going on here. Have fun with it.