Painting Portraits in Acrylic and Watercolour

Painting portraits- this is a face from my imagination,  painted in subtle shades of green and yellow.
A Green Man

Good morning everyone. Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about painting portraits. As you can see, for this one I took the slightly unconventional idea of deliberately not using flesh coloured paint . And I used watercolour which is not as forgiving as acrylic. So I had to think carefully about where I placed the brush strokes. Actually, I wanted a chance to practise using tones to model the flesh, something I learnt on an online tutorial. And, because I didn’t use skin tones like pink , orange and brown, this allowed me to be a bit detached. Probably because I could just treat the task like a problem to be solved, instead of wanting to create a lifelike portrait. Anyway, I had a go, my watercolour skills are a bit basic, I know. On the other hand, I do feel like I learnt something from the exercise.

Painting portraits and modelling the flesh

Painting portraits and making a tribute to artist Mary Cassatt. A beautiful,  red haired woman.
My version of a portrait by Mary Cassatt

Although I haven’t quite finished this portrait, this was the exercise I did during a tutorial hosted by Care Visions. In fact, I found it very helpful and the tutor John Skelcher skillfully guided us through the process. First of all, we sketched and checked that the proportions of the face were reasonably correct. Next we painted the face and neck with a mid tone. And then I added darker paint for shadowy areas and lighter colours for highlights. Finally I understood what I was trying to do, instead of adding too many shades and colours!

Incidentally, there was one other challenge in this session – we had to use the ‘ Zorn’ palette. Just to explain, an artist called Anders Zorn (1860 – 1920) made this choice of colours famous when he created his superb portraits in oils. For your information, the restricted palette consists of red, yellow ochre and black, with white allowed too. You could try it out — it’s amazing how many colour mixes you can create with this combination.

Drawing Faces on Toned Paper

A drawing of a man in red-brown pencil and white pastel on light brown paper.
Portrait in sepia pencil

Well, just to finish off with, in this portrait exercise, I used sepia pencil for the darker tones. Then the fawn coloured paper itself for the mid tones and white pastel for the highlights. Honestly, it sounds very simple, I know, but it’s taken me years to understand it!

By the way, I made this study with the aid of a photo provided by the tutor. Whereas, the first image I showed you – the green man – I created from my imagination. Because I’ve been studying the proportions of the face recently, I think I’ve managed to improve at this. And I made the painting look a bit like a real person! (Even though the eyes are not quite right!) If you want to see my baby angel portraits, see here for my tribute to Raphael.

12 Replies to “Painting Portraits in Acrylic and Watercolour”

    1. Thank you so much, Vivienne. The sepia sketch is from a couple of years ago, so it’s very much an ongoing project!

  1. Still amazes me how folks can get a likeness; really nice work, Margaret – esp liked the middle one – I think you also captured some of Cassatt’s nuances for real feeling in her portraits 😊 What medium did you use for your take on her work?

  2. Wonderful! I tried that Zorn palette once, enjoyed the experience, became interested in something else, & forgot all about Zorn. Thank you for re-inspiring me. Your faces are distinct & draw me in: I want to talk with them. Hooray for using other colors! My current fav for flesh is what some people call “puke green,” tempered w/a little extra yellow. 😂 And the pencil portrait on toned paper is 👏👏👏!

    1. Thank you so much, Robin. The Zorn palette is very intriguing. I know what you mean about the green colour – it seems wrong at first, and then you realise that some of the shadows on the face are close to that colour. Especially under the eyes.

Let me know what you think !