watercolor portrait – finished painting

okay, after sitting with it all night, i did the remaining bits and pieces today.

starting with the back wall, which needed some shadowing using moonglow, and the steps coming down the wall needed a thin wash of burnt umber.  and then it was time to do the lines of the stairs so that i could live with them.

this took all day.  and i had to back up some when the lines didn’t come out good enough.  and it was also necessary to hide the lines i was altering, so that’s why the corners turned out so dark, because i had to keep laying in burnt sienna first, then burnt umber, and then blue.  i did it several times, once when the whole area was plenty wet, the next time when there was just a sheen on the paper, and the third time when it was good and damp.  in some places, where the paper was dry, i had to go over the line with a brush of water to soften the edges.

i started with the middle step, and i don’t think at this point i tilted it enough, because it’s still wrong.  but oh well at this stage.  i would put in an area of shadows and the edge line, obscure anything that looked like a hard edge, and then let it dry.  i did this practically for every edge going up those stairs.  for the risers, i put in a final coat of burnt sienna and quinacridone gold, which i should actually have continued on the treads, but didn’t.  on the treads, is just another wash of burnt umber.  then things like edges of the carpet on the left, and the line of the orange girl’s left leg, which i had to differentiate in tone from the carpet, so you could see it at a distance.  then i came in with a hint of burnt sienna over the faces and necks, and i signed it at the right hand stair, where i should have made the carpet crease heavier, but didn’t.


now it’s time to get the painting ready to mount, which means i have to spray fix it so it doesn’t run all over itself when i mount it, because i’m using a wet mount, and the paper will get wet. but it’s easy enough to deal with.

using a bottle filled with very dilute acrylic medium, and a mouth atomizer, which you can see sticking into the bottle, i sprayed the entire painting lightly.  most people would use a can of spray fixative, but i like doing it the old fashioned (read: cheap) way, so it’s a $2.50 atomizer which lasts for years.  you blow into the wooden end of the ‘straw’, the air goes over the 90-degree break in the straw, and the vacuum causes a stream of liquid to rise thru the straw and get sprayed all over the place.  it’s exhausting at first, because that’s you blowing hard thru the nozzle, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really easey.


you can see in the closeup how wet i got it on the first pass. all that shine is freshly blown acrylic and water.  i let it dry, and then put another, heavier coat of fixative over it.  and then did it again.  never did it bleed, and that’s really the only thing i’m concerned about now, because it’s going to get a final varnish when i’m all done.


last night i had some wakeful time, so i came down to the studio and put a coat of semigloss black on my frame.   i’ll probably go and put another one on in a minute.  i als thinned out the gray green acrylic i used to paint the board, and put a second coat on it, crosswise to how i put it on the first time, so as to even out some of the visible stroke marks that will detract from the finish.

then i measured the board and marked the lines, and where they cross is the center.  you can’t really see it on this picture, but it’s there in very light pencil.

since i smudged the pencil erasing the ends, i decided to paint the board one more coat.


now all that needs to do is to take the painting off the block using a palette knife to cut the sticky black stuff around the edges.  then i have to peel off any remaining black stuff, and then center the painting on the board and mark the edges.  i’m going to use pin pricks instead of pencil marks (this time).  then i’ll take some thicker acrylic medium (thicker than the spray fixative), coat out the board, then coat out the back of the painting, and lay it down precisely on the marks.  then with a brayer, i will roll out any lumps and air bubbles under the painting, and let it dry.  when it’s dry, it’ll be permanently mounted to the board, and won’t need glass to protect it, because it’s getting varnished.

it’s almost done.  just one more day’s working with it, and i can start documenting my other current projects.


watercolor portrait – framing basics

now that the painting is mostly done, it’s time to turn my attention to the frame. in a corner of my studio storage area there is a large stack of empty frames that take up most of the space (that’s not already taken up by file drawers, shelving, and my large encaustic paintings). i went thru them and found a couple that were the right size, namely 16×20. one was black, and the other was a fancy bamboo-themed black and gold. jim argued for the fancy one, but there was a matching set, and i figured it would be better to save them. besides, i didn’t like them. so.

then i found a board just the right size, already cut and primed. but i didn’t like the color i’d found, which was a muted gray green, so i mixed up my own using sage colored latex paint and a fair amount of zinc white, because hte premixed paint was too dark.  i did a lot of testing using a mat board, and on the other side are several color samples painted in watercolor on the board.  but they streak, and look watercolory, i.e. grainy, and they were too light.  i was using matboard partly to see if i could actually paint on mat board and have it still be presentable/usable.  because at this point i’m rethinking my idea to mount the painting on board, because the frame i found has glass, so i could use a regular watercolor mat and glass arrangement if i wanted to.  but i didn’t.  so.

the painting is sitting in the middle of the frame i found, which still has its contents.  the matboard is between the painting and the edge of the frame so i can see how it looks.  the wet paint in the bowl, you’ll notice, is a shade or two lighter than the dried paint in the top swatch.  this is what acrylic does, dry darker than you expect.  the swatch below was my first attempt at lightening, which was barely any lighter than right out of the can.


the composition below is a little complicated.  starting from the green block of watercolor that contains the painting, it is perched on the green housepaint and a can of zinc white that i used to mix the background paint.  the orange thing in front is woodglue.  in front of that is a tub of black gesso draped with a damp cloth for wiping edges.  the brush on the plate is covering the bowl with green paint in it, so it doesn’t dry out.  i just finished washing the brush.  the board is a 16×20 piece of masonite we’ve had around for donkey’s years, freshly painted with a fairly thick coat of green (only because i hadn’t diluted the paint any), and i’m going to go back over it tomorrow with a thin coat of green, just to fill in some of the streaks.  the board is resting on a bunch of short moulding, because those square frames were resting on them after i’d painted their edges black with semigloss.  now that they were dry, i stacked all but one up underneath the black frame, which you can see on the top right.  it’s sitting in a vise that’s atop the stool, and i’ve forced glue into one corner and set it in the vise to dry, just as a precaution (because once the board is set into the frame, it’s not going anywhere).  i’ve just taken the black gesso and painted the frame everyplace except where the vise covers the sides.

this, by the way, is considered horrible studio practice.  because i have newly edged frames, still uncured, holding up a freshly painted black frame (which has already dripped on the brown paint of the faces on those square frames), and i’ve got that next to a freshly painted light colored panel.  worst of all, i have a raw watercolor painting in the same room with paint that, if it should spill or get smudged on to the paper, would absolutely ruin it.  i’ve had watercolors ruined before this way.  something accidental happens, or i wipe acrylic paint with a finger and don’t notice when i touch the watercolor with it.  nightmares.  so.  don’t do this at home.


those little square frames are little tiny ikea mirror decorations, cheap little things, 4″ moulding around a 4″ square mirror.  but i found them, someone chucked them out and i got to them first, and now i’m going to put encaustic paint all over them and give them as gifts to those of my family not fortunate enough to be getting a painting.  that’s my next project, which i will be blogging about directly.  also to do before next week is finish a portrait of my uncle harry, for my mom’s birthday, which jim and i have been working on, and still needs the final touches.  i’ll blog about this as a separate project, again, real soon now.

but i’m almost done with this painting.  i have yet to fix those steps (you can see where i tried to erase them last night if you look at the first picture, above).  then i have to spray fix it, then mount it to the board, and assemble the frame, and we’re done.

watercolor portrait – the shadows

the shadow nose.

okay, never mind the pun.  yesterday i did precisely one thing on this painting.   and that was put in the negative area.  oh, and i mixed up some burnt umber from dry pigment and gum arabic, and tested the color on my color card.  and then used a wash of burnt umber on the negative space, and add ultramarine blue to neutralize it and make it a gray.  it goes from the stairwell above the purple baby, all the way down the left side in the negative space, getting stronger as it goes down.

and that’s all i did yesterday.  and it took a lot out of me.  i also had to babysit my grandson, and all sorts of other interruptions.


omg my brushes!  jim found the brushes i had taken out of my stash to go to the beach with.  i knew i had more brushes than the paltry few that were in this jar the other day.  i just didn’t know where they were, but now they’re all in the same jar.  these are all my old-time yarka kolinsky sable watercolors (that jim didn’t ruin by using for egg tempera).  and, i’m about to buy out the last remaining supply of yarka brushes (that i can find after extensive searching), and after i’m thru getting one of each size from 0 to 8, i’ll tell you all where i got them and you can go buy the rest of them.


that afternoon, as the baby slept in his little playpen, i put in the far wall, using the same burnt umber and ultramarine blue.  i also erased the lines on the left side of the runway/wall, and made it the same gap as the negative space to the left.  this is because i miscalculated and only brought the left hand wall down to the block  you see, instead of continuing it down another row, which would have made more sense.  oh well.


this is the testing i did.  1 is burnt umber that i mixed from dry pigment and gum arabic.  2 is a splotch of burnt umber charged with ultramarine blue, that i then let dry, and came in with moonglow in two passes of the brush, which started to lift the brown/blue mixture.  the arrow is where i used clear water to see just how much would lift, which is a lot.  number 4, to the left of the arrow, was painted with clear water and then moonglow was charged into it, and number 5 was moonglow painted on directly in one thicker swipe of color.  then, below, 6 is a larger batch of burnt umber and ultramarine blue, made the approximate strength of the paint on the negative space of the painting.  the two lines across it correspond to 7, lunar black, and 8, moonglow, to the right of the blue/brown splotch.

the point of all this testing is to see if it’ll make mud.  which it doesn’t.  and it doesn’t come up too much, if i’m careful.  so i can proceed with the dark shadows (which mom never let us watch).


so.  because i didn’t want to put dark shadows down over white, i painted the wall on the left with very dilute burnt umber, and very very dilute ultramarine over that, while it was still wet.  after it dried, i put in much stronger burnt umber, much stronger blue, and then lunar black, very strong at the right side, and diluted progressively as i worked the brush into the already wet area.  i petered the black out in an arc reflecting the curve of teh girls’ path.  i have also come in with some lunar black (i think, else that or moonglow but i would want to keep it consistent so probably not), to shadow underneath the stairwell inside the negative space.  and then i would have decided that i’d overdone it, and wet it and blotted it until it has reached the state you see below.

i’ve also come in on the carpeted risers with quinacridone gold, and over the treads with probably burnt sienna but maybe burnt umber.  i’ve also made a pass at darkening the steps under the purple girl on the top.  it’s not working yet.

and the wooden steps, omg.  this is the middle stage of a painting where nothing’s working, and it’s so tempting to just do worse things to confirm that it’s a shitty painting and you should have taken up abstract splats.  or dots wtf.

on the wooden steps, i started with a bunch of stripes of quinacridone gold that were there for a couple of painting sessions.  now i’ve put in stripes of burnt sienna on the risers, and gone in with purple into the wet paint.  i’ve used burnt sienna either by itself or with gold or quinacridone burnt something in stripes across the treads.

it gets worse.


but first, i put some more shadow on the far wall, and shaded the stair coming down at the top right of the painting, to contrast with the shading on the wall, which is a trick escher used in his drawing that i’m ripping off.  i also took lots of moonglow to the creepy crawlies, coming right back in with clear water to soften each line.  i ran lots of burnt umber/ultramarine shadows along the folds in teh carpet.  the carpet running under the creepy crawlies to the back wall has been grayed out with a little ultramarine and a coat of burnt umber.  i finished the wooden steps off with thinner stripes of burnt umber, and burnt umber/ultramarine shadows under the overhanging treads.  i actually put down water and scrubbed up color at the edge of these overhands, to make them lighter, to make them read as projecting forms.  then a wash of burnt scarlet or burnt orange, whichever quinacridone color it is, on top of all the stairs, and wiped the overhands back out.

then i went in and gave each girl her topcoat, using a quinacridone pink on the top girl, a similar bluish red for the middle girl, and the clearest orange red over the bottom girl, going back in with a blotting tissue especially on the orange girl.

once having done this, i took my darkest black, which is lunar black, and went in at the back of each girl’s head, because these darks were now woefully understated.


at this point it’s signed, so it’s technically finished.  however, it’s only finished when i spray fix it and glue it down to its backing board.  so i’ve got a day to look at it.  and so after i took this picture, i went in and scrubbed the carpeted steps.  just the one in front of hte red girl’s foot, and the other edge of that step, in front of hte orange girl’s left knee.  and lo and behold, the brown/blue came up enough to go over at better angles tomorrow.

plus that, and the far stairs, the ones that come down at an impossible angle, are way too light, and i’m thinking a thin wash of handy-dandy burnt umber will do the trick.

and maybe i have to fix the faces, with some color, and the top one especially needs finishing.  it’s just that i’m scared.  maybe a well placed shadow will work.

watercolor portrait – wall

today’s work, aside from one swipe of red over the top kid’s hair, and putting quinacridone gold and burnt sienna on the stairs at the top of the painting, was to start on the wall.  and since i’m taking it one step at a time, always avoiding the fearful step until i have no alternatives, i only put in the lines of the wall, and will save the local color and the shading for another time.

tho i see where i still have to touch the bald spot on the second kid.


oh yeah and i completed drawing the creepy crawlies with paint.  i’m using moonglow black, a mixed black, very staining.  however, because it was so light, i was able to pull some of it up to correct some of the lines.

looking here, i can see i have to go back in and correct more of the lines.  funny how obvious it is when you see it on screen.  i was just talking with a reader about that.  they always take a picture of the various stages with their cellphone, so they can see what’s going on instantly.  it’s a good practice (like looking at it reversed in the mirror) for seeing things that need fixing.  when you’re looking directly at it, i think you’re too involved in what you’re trying for, but when you reduce it and put it up on a screen, maybe you lose some of that emotional investment, and see it more like a regular viewer sees it.

i call it my autistic side.  my autistic side can spot waldo in a heartbeat.  it can see lines that don’t point true, it can detect the mistake of mistakes in a sea of minor mistakes.  and my autistic side isn’t afraid to come out and blurt the truth, either.  which might be painful when i do it to other artists – “that chin sucks.  you never draw chins right” – most people can’t take that.  good thing i’m my own worst critic.  autist artist.

for the lines i used my number 2 yarka russian squirrel brush (i found a set of sizes 1-5 on ebay, the old russian-made yarka brushes, five of them for $35 weehah), which is almost a liner, so long and thin.  the great lines you can draw with these brushes.  i dearly love them.  so much so that, thru careful research, i have found an outlet that still carries a few of the old ones, tho not enough to put up on the website, and i am currently negotiating to buy almost all of them hahahahahahahahahahaha.  because no matter what he charges for them, they’re cheap, and they don’t have any more ever anywhere, so i’ll have enough to leave in my will when i die.  i’ll post where they are as soon as i’m thru buying my share.  then everybody should rush out and get the rest of them.

i had some issues drawing in the horizontal lines on the left side of the doorway.  i turned the page sideways on my lap, and took the side of a piece of paper for the straight edge, and drew one line where i actually had a measurement (the continuation of the top step), then shifted the page over and drew another line.  i shifted the paper just enough to bring the new line vertical, aiming somewhere behind my backbone, and shifted the pad around that point.  because remember i figured out hte second point of the two point perspective was about a yard to the left of the top step, and got really frazzled trying to do that with a yardstick.  i figured finally that making me the yardstick might work, and it did, well.  i shifted the paper by instinct, and managed to do it mostly right.  which is just to show that you should trust your instincts, especially when you’re being creative.

anyway, i have guests this evening, so i’m making this short.

watercolor portrait – hair

today i decided to take the kids by the hair.  because now the problem is the background, and i’m putting off dealing with that to do something less painful.

i did a lot of experimenting with colors on my test sheet.  not really.  i tried out my dark browns to see if any of them were actually burnt umber, but i’m pretty sure i’ve got a bunch of burnt sienna instead.  no matter.  we can darken brown.  brown isn’t actually very dark at all until you put something like black or blue in it.  which i did, putting whatever blacks i had into it, putting ultramarine into it.


i decided to start with the darkest darks, because i put in really light shades of burnt sienna and quinacridone gold on there before, so i’m not starting with white paper, so i can only do so much before it gets muddy, especially being darks.  you don’t often see muddy lights….

i mixed up some rather deep brown and put it on, and then, having tested the various dark mixtures, added lamp black to the brown.  or maybe it’s carbon black.  or maybe even lunar black.  okay, i looked it up.  it granulates like nothing else, so it’s lunar black, which is magnetite.

i couldn’t tell because i had a tube that completely dried out, so i peeled the tube off around the lump of dried paint, and that’s what’s stuck down to my palette.

i love it because of the granulation, which is really magnetic reactions in the wet paint, so cool.  it can be very problematic, however, and can easily detract from the rest of the painting, so you have to be careful with it.  the people at handprint are leery of it.  then i let it sit to dry, and went to do something else for awhile.


then i came back in with basically a lighter version of the brown and black, but this time i used bits of blue, and a tiny bit of burnt sienna.  this was on the lowest one.  for the middle one, i used a bit more red and blue, and less black, and for the top one, well, actually, i’m not thru with that one yet, because i haven’t washed it over with brown  yet.  it’s necessary to get the whole head wet, even the darks i painted before, or else there’ll be bleed lines.  but when you get something that dark wet, you have to be careful, so i basically just dry brushed the darks, just to get a little sheen.


the closeup, taken in different lighting conditions (cuz you can notice that i haven’t touched the red or orange clothing, or the gold carpet.  only the heads.  you can see how particulate the black looks, and how thick and opaque it looks on he left.  this is something that’s hard to control, and you have to do it very wet to get the pigment to disperse properly.  i put brown down rather thickly, and then dab black into it, and some blue.  and the water from the brush flows on with the pigment, and pushes the brown aside, and then you get all these fine patterns.  but it darkens the tone of the brown tremendously, as you can see around the edges where the black didn’t reach.


this closeup, shot outside in the gloom of sunset, isn’t anything like the middle of the day photo, so you can’t see the grain of the paper in this one, and the colors have shifted toward blue.  but you can still see what i’ve done, with the brown and black, and a little bit of blue.  also that i’ve painted with bunt sienna and then lifted out the bald spot on the upper right, using paper to blot the paint back out of it.  that’s because it went dark right away, just by covering the white, and i basically had to come in and blot and sponge, and get wet and blot a little more, just to get the light back.

should have put the highlight in first, instead of trying to come in over base coats and still retain light values.  oh well, live and never learn, that’s my motto.

so that’s today’s work.  tomorrow, since the hair is done and i’m still not ready for the final pass of darks over the bodies, i will finish the faces and start tackling the background.  a host of issues, including how dark, and what color, still have to be answered.

but i’ve decided on the framing.  i’m going to mount it to a panel, painted probably a sage green, a light gray-green.  and then some nice heavy cap moulding from home depot, and i’ll stain or paint that burnt sienna, and make a frame for it.

and then i have to turn to finishing a portrait of my uncle to give to my mom.  i’ve been collaborating on this with jim, and i have to make the final color pass, since he’s done with it.

watercolor portrait – starting the background


here is the next step.  actually, i’m only doing the carpet and stairs because i chickened out on the hair.  when it comes to putting in darks, i tend to get cold feet, have to work up to it, and risk muddying hte water whenever i hesitate like this.

so instead of messing with it, i did the stairs instead.

which required a definite drawing of the creepy crawlies.  i had previously had them just sketched in, and wasn’t ever satisfied with the one on teh stairs, so i spent a good deal of yesterday redrawing her, several times.  and now i’m not only mainly happy with her, but am also stuck with her.

i started with the girls’ shadows, using burnt sienna first, then coming in for darker tones with burnt umber, and put in some ultramarine blue in the very darkest places.  on the orange girl, the further shadow to her right was done after the first, darker shadow, was dry.

then i put on the carpet.  it’s a base layer of quinacridone gold, with some burnt sienna to darken it, and a little bit of burnt umber in the darkest spots.  i had to run the quinacridone gold over the shadows, and this could easily be where mud is made, but it was a very thin wash, and i was very gingerly with my brush.  and it seems to have worked okay.

for the wooden stairs, i put on a very light wash of burnt sienna, then used quinacridone gold to represent the highlights, and i’ve pretty much stopped there.  it’ll need wood graining, and that’ll be in burnt sienna, later.

then, just because i was feeling bold and confident (usually a mistake), i made a very weak solution of moonglow black (which isn’t black at all, but three staining pigments – phthalo blue, alizarin crimson, and phthalo green.  it’s got a very blue mass tone, so it’s great for resembling black and white while still being color.  so now the creepy crawlies are outlined in paint, and i will now erase the pencil and refine my marks before going on with them.

what will i do today?

i’m not sure.  the problem i’m having with the painting at the moment is the whole upper left side, which is still in pencil.  if i make it dark, then i’m going to get a diagonal line that goes the other way from the central figures, and what i really want is for everything to support their moment.  so i’m going to darken the upper left of this area, and make the unbre line (the line of darkness) curve around above the girls.  i’ll start it at about where the rolly thing’s feet are.

i don’t really know what i’ll do today.  let me go make myself a cup of coffee and settle in among the dogs sleeping on the couches and chairs upstairs, where the light is good and the heat is set a little higher than down here (where my fingers are stumbling over the keyboard, and the keys are sticking).

as for the blank space to the left, under the stairs, i’m not sure what to do.  if i put in the lower dimension, as escher would have done, then that means a lot more work, and it detracts from te girls.  besides, i’ve already made my point with the creepy things cutting across the plane, and don’t really need more details.  so i’ll probably just make that part a continuation of the wall behind the stairs, and not mess with distracting details.

watercolor portrait – redrawing the background

today i got some good advice, which was to stop working on the girls until i’ve got the tones in on the background. then i can see how bad it is in its final setting.  because you never know.


so i got out my straight edge (ruler) and my pencil and eraser (except i can’t find any of my many erasers and don’t like jim’s solution (carve off the end like a carpenter’s pencil, or scratch it off on sandpaper.)  i want my gizmo, dammit.)

i forced the perspective, meaning i altered the hell out of the perspective in the photograph in order to make the vanishing point thru the doorway in the upper right.  and a second vanishing point about a yard to the left.  i had a yardstick as my straight edge, and i tried to wedge the tip of it on top of the side table and work out the horizontals of the steps by aligning the yardstick with the lines in the photo.  and it wavered about a great deal, but i settled on a distance in my mind, and drew all my lines sort of to that point.  i’m not very good at this at all.

and here i am trying to rip off escher.  but i’m not tearing it up and starting over.

i did learn one thing about 2 point perspective, tho.  the vertical risers are more or less the same distance on each step, but of course, the horizontal treads are hugely larger as you get closer to the viewpoint.

looking at it on the screen instead of the painting in real life, i can see that the top riser (that the red girl has her knee on) has to be longer, meaning the back of the tread has to sit lower, so that line above her foot has to come down lower on the paper.  and tilt downward to the right a bit more, too.  or else the front edge of the tread (to the right of the orange girl’s right hip) has to go up a bit.  i’m not good at perspective.  i’m going to have to hold it up to a mirror once i’ve made my adjustments, because i just know it is jarringly wrong, it’s just that i can’t see it after having worked on it all day.

and in fact it wasn’t all day.  i had about a 2 hour session this morning, before the lunchtime dog walk, and then visitors, who took the grand tour, which is always a blast, and they were cute and they were interested.  and i feel bad because i kicked them out so i could feed jim and walk the dogs again before it pissed down more rain.

and after that i came back and drew in all the escher stuff until it was dark.  i redrew the rolly figures to be taller, and to follow the proper perspective line, and i like them better (tho i still suck at drawing ellipses and it’s going to arduous to get them right.  another reason for me to find that blasted pencil sharpener or go outside and scrape it on a brick.)

i redrew the creepy crawly by the orange girl, larger than i had it in the beginning, so it’s only the back end and the first two feet instead of his head on down.  i drew in the head of a crawly just going up the stairs upside down from the purple girl (middle left).  and i’ve so far managed to keep the crawly head i drew on the far wall in the beginning, tho maybe i should erase it and put in more of the body so you can tell where it’s going – i love the feet.  i’ll probably have to redraw them all.

the lines on the left hand wall need to be flatter going back under the stairs on the far wall.

i wonder will i paint in the shadows on the escher part, or do i switch to pen and ink now?

i guess i’ll paint in the carpet.  i guess i’ll paint in the wooden steps.

i guess i’ll paint in the girls’ shadows.

then we’ll see.