Facing Fears

I find people difficult to paint in watercolour. Just knowing which combinations of colours to use is a puzzle, and then if working quite small, the merest miscalculation can change a face from recognisable to someone else.

I thought it was time to face my fears and do some practice, so I found some appealing royalty-free images on the web and went for it on a piece of A4 watercolour paper.

Face practice watercolour

Because I’m left-handed, the top right pic came first. The original was of a child about 12 years old – I’ve accidentally added at least a decade, plus a rather haughty air, poor thing. The young lady with blue hair is a little closer to the way her photo looks, and she was painted next. I love her hair! The man on the right followed. He looks like he’s in a catalogue (which he sort of was). He’s a bit bland, but I wanted a face-on image… The last one I painted was the chap on the bottom left, an unusual pose. His head was shaved and he was very stubbly, which I enjoyed doing. This is the sketch I’m most happy with. I added the background colours afterwards, and they bear no relation to the original photos – I just went with what I fancied.

What did I learn? Well, I’m getting better at getting face proportions roughly right. I’ve discovered a combination of yellow ochre and quinacridone red which gives a nice skin colour for white flesh. Shadows are still a challenge, but they are improving I think. I sort of wish I had used reference photos of people I know, but knowing them would probably have made the exercise harder. Maybe next time.


40 thoughts on “Facing Fears

    • You’re so kind, Michael, thank you. I think faces are really difficult anyway, and watercolour certainly complicates matters. Add in doing it from life, and I suspect that could be the work of a lifetime! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. I think these are very good. I understand the problem of “aging” a face from a young girl to someone older. I find it very challenging to capture the youthfulness of a small child or young girl. Most of my face drawings are in graphite or charcoal. You’ve inspired me to do more “face-sketching” with watercolors.

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  2. You did a fantastic job here, theyยดre all really good!!! I like how you did the hair and the shadows – I find that the hardest part (in any medium). Also love the colours you used, and thanks for the tip with the skin tone! ๐Ÿ˜Š Happy Sunday to you! ๐ŸŒž

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    • Thanks Ann Christina – I hope you find the combination works for you. Yeah, the shadows are really tough…always a battle. I loved painting the blue hair though! Have a great day, whatever you’re up to. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. I was just thinking about how hard it is to draw faces vs paint them with oils. I bet watercolors are much harder than drawing. You need so much control and to adjust so many times to get features right. And you are so right, when working small you have to be right on or the person is someone different. I just did a little portrait that was only one inch and I was off by about 1/32″ and the kid looked like a monkey, no joke. It just about sent me over the edge, so I painted over it and started over. you can’t do that so easily with watercolors. Or pencil, without getting a mess.

    Nice job on these, I think they look great.

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    • Hehe, I like your story, it made me smile – I think many of us must know that struggle. Seriously, one inch is tiny! However did you manage? ‘Respect,’as they say.
      Oh yeah, watercolours are tricksy, it feels like high stakes stuff… Thank you for your much-appreciated compliment! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. These are very very good! And likeness is very difficult… until now I did about 50 or so selfies, and none of this really looks like me. I think you will succeed in likeness much faster than me, keep on trying! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. I love faces, but i’m inexperienced with watercolour. It looks tricky. You’ve done nicely, though! I especially love the blue hair girl. Not just because the hair is blue, but the nice tones/ shadows.

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      • True, dat. Practice makes perfect! Watercolour pencils are something i’m into, but it’s an entirely different ballpark to painting the colours on with a brush. Will definitely have to gather some supplies and give it a go someday, though! It’s certainly an aesthetically pleasing medium.

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      • Yes, and it’s full of surprises too. Lots of amazing effects which are achieved (in my case) by accident. Well worth a go if you have the chance. (Try to get some watercolour paper too, to go with the paint, or it won’t behave properly.)


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