Watercolor Portrait Painting Tutorial

About Sandrine Pelissier

I grew up in France but have been living in Canada for the last 12 years, I am currently located in North Vancouver and work from a studio on Pemberton Avenue.

Watercolor is my medium of choice because of the unique way it allows me to render light. The transparency of this medium can make it look like the painting is lit from behind and the light is shining through the paper In my portraits, I like to tell stories about the people around me. I am very interested in childhood fantasy or fairy tales (I wish it would snow Flowers, Hair Balloon, Georgia, the Spanish dress and the Eclectus Parrot). I also like to induce a dialogue with the viewer in some paintings dealing more with introspection and mood (Mixed, In the studio).

Those portraits are not about likeness or knowing the people that are being painted, as I see my models as actors in a movie, they are the faces that will allow me to tell a story or to show emotions. Those faces are a source of endless fascination and I find the subtlety that can be achieved with watercolor well suited to the complexity of the human face.

My technique involves the accumulation of many transparent layers of watercolor. Then I like to incorporate mixed media in the background, work sometimes with some contouring. I also sometimes like to add some drawing on top of the painting or some graphic elements…

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Sophie – Watercolor Portrait Painting Demonstration

(Click Images Below for Larger Views)

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Working title: sophie , watercolor on paper

My last watercolor portrait, asking for my friend Sophie to pose, she has nicely done this a few times for me already:

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I am still thinking about what the title could be, and will change it soon, once I see the light.
I struggled with the composition on this one until I decided to change the format from a landscape to a portrait one. I also like to leave an unfinished part in the lower area with some drippings.

I am changing my way to work on watercolor portraits recently, using a more improvised way of painting, leaving more place for the paint to do what it wants to. Here are some of the steps I took :

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The drawing on newsprint, I did some shading that is not necessary but helps me better understand the face in 3 D.

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After shading the back of my paper with charcoal and graphite, I taped it on my watercolor paper.

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On my watercolor paper, I just kept the main outlines. I reserve some areas with masking fluid.

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I start working with my board at quite a steep angle so the paint will go down and drip

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My first layers are blue in the areas in shade and yellow in lighter areas, I don’t have much control on the paint at this stage.

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Once those first layers are dried, I start to add more layers, incorporating some purples and orange

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I start working on the hair and the features, adding paint and scrubbing some off.

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I scrub a lot of paint off, revealing more light areas.

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The finished painting

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