How to paint a portrait in Watercolours – Step by Step

Below is a fantastic step by step guide that was kindly put together by fellow artist RobertF.

As you will see, Robert takes us through his artistic process from the initial sketches, right through to the finished portrait. This gives us a unique insight into how a talented artist goes about planning and then painting a fantastic portrait.

Step-By-Step – by RobertF.

Step 1.

My initial measured guide,  I do this for most portraits,  I measure as much as possible. All future sketches are continuously back-checked with this.

Step 2

Now I overlay my initial sketch from Step 1 and start adding more detail/shapes. All sketches are done on a light table, overlaying sketch paper.

Step 3.

When I am satisfied with parts and pieces I use a marker to go over the lines. Step 1 is under this sketch.

Step 4.

The final sketch.. It looks messy but you are seeing all the other overlays under the final. This is transferred to the watercolour paper.

Step 5.

Sketch was transferred. 9×12 140lb hot press watercolour paper.
Then the first wash of yellow was added. This painting was done entirely using a Silver number 4 round brush.

Step 5.1

An enlargement of the Step 5 eye area. The pencil shows dark, but in reality, it is very light.

Step 6.

A yellow ochre puddle was added next to the winsor yellow on my palette. I paint with each separately and a mixture of the two.

Step 7.

Tiger’s Eye was added adjacent to my colours. I mostly paint with the last two colours and the mix of those.

Step 8.

I added washes to the hat at this stage seen here in the first of the two photos in this step.

Now I added a puddle of orange. Painted with the last colour and a mix.

Step 9.

Now I added a puddle of Burnt Umber. Painted with the last colour and a mix.

Step 10.

Now I added a puddle of red and Brown. Painted with the last colour and a mix. Then I added cerulean and French ultramarine to the hat.

Step 11.

Now it was time to add the darks.. Brown, red, blues, neutral tint, sap green.

Step 12 – Final Touches.

More darks. Several washes and glazes to get it darker. Spent a lot of time on the eyes.. detailing, scrubbing, darkening, reshaping and adding white gouache. I am trying to get away from doing that but I am becoming less of a fan of using masking fluid when painting portraits.
Detailed the mouth a bit more with reds and browns.
This stage is essentially about adding to places that you think need something adding to them. I played with salt on the blue background. I tried different brush strokes and washes on the clothes. More darks to the side of the face. Took another look at the eyes and mouth.
Here is the finished painting.

Written by Robert F – May 2018

Many thanks to Robert for going to the trouble of capturing all these fascinating stages that he goes through in painting his fabulous portraits. I am sure we will all learn from this step-by-step. I know I have learned so much in the short time I have been collating all this information that Robert supplied me with, I now look forward to being able to refer to this guide that Robert has written for us.
Thanks again Robert!

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