Lately I’ve been trying to get beyond muddy colors in my portraits, both watercolor and pastel. I’m searching for luminosity and clarity of color, as well as building form, hitting a likeness.
That mean choosing colors in an organized way, rather than just grabbing what suits me. And it means making a plan so that I apply color in limited layers.
And it means painting a bunch of versions of the same thing.
This was my first watercolor sketch in a series of three. I painted this in my usual slapdash fashion. The need to slap paint on paper overwhelmed any kind of thoughtful (some might say obsessive) work. But the proof was in the pudding; although it felt nice to slosh paint around, I couldn’t even finish this, because I was so unhappy with it.
This was the second watercolor sketch of the same person. I gave up trying for a likeness. It wasn’t what this exercise was about. The painting is on a buff colored Rives.BFK Arches. (I know, I know, it’s a printing paper. But I wanted to see how it takes watercolor. I can see some possibilities.) I tried to use mainly warm colors—reds, oranges, yellows—and searched for color temperature across that limited spectrum. In the end I had to add some Indanthrone blue in to get my darks. The colors still look muddy to me.
The third watercolor sketch was on bright white heavy Aquabee Super Delux drawing paper. I’ve long loved this paper; it has enough tooth to hold pencil and charcoal, smooth enough to take pen, and is sturdy enough for light watercolor. It’s evidently sized on both sides now.
For this sketch I stuck with ultramarine blue, alizaron crimson (I’ve got a tube I want to use up before moving onto the new Quinacridone substitutes), lemon yellow, and oranges in the cadmium family.
This was an exercise in self control: I limited my palette, planned ahead, and put paint down in an organized fashion. I often spoke out loud, to myself and to the paint, thinking aloud about what I was trying to achieve (This is why I don’t think I could ever share a studio with anyone). I painted quickly but deliberately.
I’m happier with this result (I wish it translated to a low-rez jpg), although I still feel I have a long way to go. Yeah, yeah, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that important. Right?