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To Buttonwillow's delight, I recently completed a watercolor portrait of my little darling in profile. By popular demand, here are step-by-step photos and descriptions of the process.
First-- the reference photo that I started with... Notice how her pretty eye is almost smack dab in the middle of the composition-- that will be the focal point of the painting.
Next I've taken a piece of 140 lb. cold press Arches watercolor paper, and lightly sketched in the basic outlines in pencil. I've also used masking fluid to block off and protect areas that I want to stay absolutely white, such as the whiskers and the glint in her eye (the masking fluid dries into a rubbery and water-resistant solid, and then can be rubbed off at a later point). The masking fluid is tinted blue, so that you can see exactly where you've put it on the white paper.
Next, I did an underpainting of warm colors. This is a fun and fairly random "slopping on" of wet and runny colors. This will give a warm glow to the transparent colors I choose to put on top of it (plus, because I use "non-staining" colors for my underpainting, lifting "mistakes" that might be painted on top of it becomes that much easier!)
I do not own a tube of black or gray paint. That's because it is so easy to achieve much more interesting blacks and grays by layering two or more complimentary colors on the paper. A classic mix is a dark blue, such as ultramarine or prussian blue and burnt sienna (you can use any two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel). So that's what I've done here. The paint tubes say blue and brown, but your brain says "BLACK"!
See how the masking fluid is protecting the white of those delicate
whiskers, eyebrows, and ear floof?Now for that focal point: the eye! I am going to take extra care to make it shine. First I put on a very wet wash of yellow. (Remember, those blue spots are the water-resistant masking, which will eventually revert back to white areas)...
Next, I drop in some blue paint, right into the wet yellow-- mostly toward the top of the eye. It's going to mix and swirl and make a mottled green. I want it to stay lighter at the bottom where the light is bouncing into her eyeball (look at the reference photo and you'll see what I mean).
I also drop in just a hint red while everything is still wet, to tone down the lime-green effect of mixing the yellow and blue...
While all of that dries, I paint her cute little pink nose and add some warm color to the inside of her ear.
Most watercolor reds don't dilute down to a very satisfactory or vibrant pink. So I use "quinacridone red" which is a very vibrant, transparent deep-rose-pink-red color that dilutes down to a soft pink very nicely.
I also use a very diluted gray mix and work on her mouth line, her chin, and all that glorious floof below her cheek. layering the pale gray to make soft shadows.
As watercolor paint dries, it always fades a bit. So now I am going to dab in some more yellow and blue toward the top of the eyeball to deepen that color a bit; then I paint in the dark pupil with my mixture of dark blue and burnt sienna which = black...
Now for the fun part. With an art eraser, I gently rub off the rubbery blue masking. Wow! Those whites are still so white! They are too white (and pretty harsh) aren't they? Let's soften them up a bit.
Using my gray/black mix and a fine-tip brush, I narrow down each whisker and hair. Also, I "tone down" some of the whiskers with a pale gray wash-- this will make them recede a bit and make the whiter whiskers look like they are in front, adding dimension.
I also tone down the glint in her eye slightly. It is actually the reflection of a window, and that window has some tone variation in it. It's little details like this in a focal point that will add authenticity. See what a difference it makes? You can also see the before and after of the eyebrow hairs...
Then comes a prolonged period of tinkering, dabbing, adjusting, and obsessing. until at some point you put on the brakes, probably because the cat is demanding dinner. With any luck, you haven't over-worked the entire painting...
Thank goodness for hungry cats. It looks like its done!
Drop me a line in the comments section, and I'll do my best to answer them!