Sly – monochromatic

Sly - monochromatic study

The same face I worked in graphite a few days ago – Sly – now in watercolor, a monochromatic study in preparation for painting a full color portrait. I find her face and expression rather out of the ordinary and complex. Interestingly I have heard quite diverse takes on her expression – sly, crafty, furtive, beautiful, b!tch, bored, boring, playful, coy, cunning, just to name a few. It is very rewarding to me to take in all these different reactions, perhaps it means that I produced a portrait complex and unorthodox enough to cause them.

6″ x 6″ (15 x 15 cm), Burnt Umber on Fabriano Soft Press.


29 thoughts on “Sly – monochromatic

    • Thank you, Leslie! You are so supportive, I am blessed to have your encouragement. Your students must adore you.

      I am sure there are a lot of issues with my portraits and technique. If you have critique or suggestions for me, I would love to hear them. I am set out to learn, anything that would advance me on this path is wanted and greatly appreciated.

      • I like how you used your brush to describe the contours of her face from chin, across the cheek and up under the eye. The value study is very believable and should serve you well as you go on to paint her in color.

      • Thank you, Leslie! That line came out nice indeed, I didn’t notice until you pointed it out . A pleasant surprise. I am disappointed with eyes however. Making perfect detailed eyes was not a part of the value study, but still their size, ellipses and directions are off – which sucks 😦 . As I wrote to Carol, every millimeter matters in a portrait. Unless you are Modigliani, of course, LOL. On the other hand I am glad I made this mistake in the study, I will know better when painting a real thing.

    • Thank you for visiting, Carol! I think pencil study is invaluable for watercolor portrait. It makes me really look and learn details and values, in a portrait a millimeter can make a difference. I got a little carried away with my graphite study for Sly and made it a finished drawing, less finishing would have been sufficient for a study. When you have to work features and planes of a face with such small tool as a pencil point you get to know what is where, the small highlights, the details and depth of the shadows, the minute marks and imperfections that make the face real. The distances between features, the angles become internalized. With that knowledge when I do the same with a brush a lot of guesswork is eliminated. Not all guesswork, mind you :), but some. Trying to control watercolor, which is either running away or drying too quickly, while trying to decide an angle or a position of something, is beyond me. On top of these benefits I just like to draw :D!

  1. Hi Alex,
    Great study on monotones. I find that if you go easy on eyes you can make them look realistic. Small, soft strokes are good especially for eye lashes. Evenly spaced eyelashes make them look not so realistic. So make the spacing uneven and much closer. I hope this bit helps. I think the irises can be made more 3D with a few shading at the appropriate places. I like the value and gradation in the rest of the painting. Good job!

    • Hi Raji, thank you for your suggestions on painting eyes. I will remember that when painting the full color portrait. I am working on my color selection at the moment as well as finishing another graphite portrait. So it will be a little while before I get to it. Thank you for your comment.

  2. this is fantastic, i almost dont want you to make a colored one thats how good this one is. i also kinda want you to do my portrait already! i love you mama. im off for class! 🙂

    • Thank you, dear one! We will get to your portrait soon. We’ll need a few real good photos taken outside, because flash kills the shadows. That is unless you are prepared to sit for me for about 30 hours… :D…

    • Thank you, Alan! I visited your watercolor site, now that you left me a link. I love your style in watercolor, nostalgic and from the days long gone. The name Edward Wesson was new to me, but I know it now – thank you. Love his paintings. Take care of yourself as well, good to have met you.

  3. As a slightly colorblind person who occasionally has difficulty seeing subtle hue changes between some normal colors, I must say that I really enjoy monochromatic watercolor paintings like this.
    I usually work(ed) in black or sepia but after seeing at this, I would say burnt umber looks like a fantastic color for portraits. The earthiness of it really suits skin.

    (IMO) watercolor is so much harder for portraits than landscapes/scenery, it’s good to see you can do it nicely. 🙂

    • Hey, Sam, good to see you! Are you sure you are colorblind even in a slightest degree? I find it hard to imagine having seen some of your color work. I probably don’t need to tell you that chromatic intelligence and perception is a matter of training. I am more color attuned now after years of beadwork and weaving than I was before, can differentiate so many more nuances.

      Burnt Umber does work well for monochromatic portrait, I agree, but it was an unintended accident (gotta love those!) I would’ve preferred sepia, but didn’t have it. My other choices were Payne’s Gray or Ultramarine, these got ruled out for coldness and granularity. BU was what was left :).

  4. Apparently my alleged colorblindness is transient. I can pass a color test now yet last year I missed about 7/20 plates on a regular eye exam and the short test in Biology Lab said I was red/green blind.
    That is pretty neat how we develop a more keen sense for the finer color differences as we study them; I can differentiate between shades of black and combine them better. I like to think my wardrobe has improved as a result :D.
    I still haven’t got a great handle on yellow and blues though.

    The umber seems to suggest more color in this than just itself. Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, and a black seem like they would be the watercolor equivalent of a Conte sketching set.

    It’s a different shade than my paint of the same name, what brand are you using here, the Cotman set or something else?

    • Burnt Umber does suggest color, I didn’t articulate that before, but now that you said it – it is so clear. My watercolors are an old WINSOR & NEWTON Cotman Water Colour Studio Set. It used to belong to my dad, but he decided he wants to paint in acrylic and gave his watercolors to me. I read online and in various books that pigment recipes differ from brand to brand and it shows more so in earth colors. I saw Daniel Smith’s Burnt Umber swatch online, it is very different from mine, much brighter and seems to have more orange in it. What brand do you use? Can you post a BU sample?

      I am glad to hear about your wardrobe improvements 😀 LOL

      • I actually collect the earth colors in various brands because they’re so useful, I’ll make a color chart of all my paints and brands tonight and post it. Watercolor goes on sale a lot and is pretty inexpensive anyway so it’s easy to collect lots of tubes.

        I probably should have already made one for quick reference since the paint can look so different on paper compared to sitting on a palette.

        • What a great idea – a collection of pigments! Personally I am torn between wanting to own all colors in the world and a discipline of a limited palette, LOL!

          I am looking forward to seeing your color chart. Are you going to post it on your blog?

    • LOL! I am not going to “kill” a friend over half an ounce of sepia, Gigi! But the reason I didn’t paint her in sepia, even that I wanted to, is that I don’t have sepia :D. I will be putting an order for new pigments shortly, I hope, and will get some then. In the meantime I am preparing to paint her in color. Thank you for stopping by!

  5. Yep, I posted the chart in a blog (well, I am typing up the post as I write this). There’s some review/opinion in there as well.

    It turns out the only Burnt Umber I have is a Daler-Rowney one. It seems like an alright paint. My favorite colors to use in general are Burnt Sienna, Sepia, or Cobalt Blue.

    My only artist paints are Maimeri Blu. I love their Cobalt Blue most of all. The only downside is that color is around $15/tube, but their paint comes in 15ml tubes so they’re cheaper than they seem.

    The Van Goghs are also good. If you’re going to order some more soon, I’d recommend you try a few of them just because they have a great quality/price/size ratio. I use them to do backgrounds and spots of color in ink portraits.

  6. Pingback: Sly III « Pencil Scribbles

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