Sophie Rodionov: Watercolor Step by Step

Watercolor Step by Step with DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist Sophie Rodionov

We are delighted to introduce Watercolor Artist Sophie Rodionov, who in this demonstration, will show us step by step a painting of a cat in watercolor using Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors.

Why a cat? – I love painting animals in general. Basically all that we call “nature” inspires me a lot. But cats…. I feel something really special about them. Moreover, I think that in some way watercolour – the media I love so much – is the “cat” among other art materials. Cats are never “predictable”, a cat always does whatever he wants…. 

The same about watercolour: even when we think – that’s it! I know everything about it! – it still surprises! And to tell you the truth – I love it! I do wish to get surprises on my paper, I do wish to be friends with watercolor, but I appreciate its nature and want to do everything I can to show this on my watercolor paper. So, cats…I live in an area with a lot of homeless cats and one of them now lives in my house. I have an opportunity to see them, to look at them, to take pictures in all kinds of situations. I often use those pictures for my paintings. 

I think, when we paint any subject, we have to feel a “closeness’ to this subject. When I paint cats from those “captured moments”, I don’t paint just a cat, I paint the “moment” I saw in the situation, I paint the feelings and the strong connection between me and that “moment”.

Step 1. Reference photo, value sketch and pencil sketch on watercolor paper.

Step 1  

I start with the picture I have and print it for comfortable usage. This is not really a quality printed photo, but I don’t care – everything about colors and light I have in my mind. The photo is just a memento to remember the feeling and to catch the pose in right proportions. I use my sketchbook and make a small value and composition study with pencil. Then, I make the rudimentary pencil drawing on a watercolour paper cold press 140lb. 

Step 2. First watercolor washes.

Step 2

First wash to define warm and cool spaces, as well as the main drop shadow which is part of my composition. Here I use a “warm mix” from the palette (usually these are mixes of Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Nickel Azo Yellow, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna) and in some places adding Lunar Earth to get the granulation. My light “cool mix” is usually Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, French Ultramarine and Sepiain different proportions. Here I add granulating Lunar Blue to the background. For the cat’s shadow I use Moonglow, Verditer Blue and Quinacridone Burnt Orange. 

Colors. Nickel Azo Yellow, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, and Lunar Earth for mixing warm wash colors. Lunar Blue for the background and Moonglow for the cat’s shadow.
Step 3. Adding values to the cat’s figure to build the form.

Step 3

Continuing with the washes, I start to add values to the cat’s figure to define the pose and to build the form. I use the same colors as in the background, just adding a bit of Quinacridone Coral to the ears. I wet the paper with clear water using a hake brush before applying the colors and spraying the water if I see any hard edges that I don’t want. If I need to put a more defined mark with the brush, I blot water from the brush and take up more pigment with it. This way even when the surface is wet, we have more control of making marks. For the tail, I use watercolour’s wonderful nature, when working wet onto wet paper, to get this spreading mark. 

Step 4. Adding darker values to the shadows on the cat and the shadow beneath it.

Step 4

Here I continue to add value to the shadows on the cat and the shadow beneath it as well as adding more details to the cat. I don’t wait for the paper to dry completely, I just continue with the process: some places dry, some are still wet and I get various brush marks naturally with little effort. This is important, to have soft edges and strong edges one near another among the whole painting. Also, I always think about cool and warm colors and keep them in mind while painting. Cool colors near the warm colors make the painting more natural and connected to reality, even when you are not “ a real realist artist”.  For the darkest places, I love to use the mix of Sepia, Phthalo Turquoiseand Verditer Blue with Deep Scarlet which is one of my favourite dark mixes.

Colors. Mixes of Sepia, Phthalo Turquoise and Verditer Blue with Deep Scarlet is one of my favourite dark mixes.
Step 5. The most fun step, creating the textures in a background.

Step 5

The most fun step – creating the textures in a background. Here I use all the same colors I already have on a palette, especially Lunar Blueand Lunar Earth, because I need their granulating ability for textural effects. Here there are no rules: I use a dry flat brush, splatter colors, spray water, lifting marks with paper towel – everything I could think of. But trying to stop in time before making the painting overworked or too dark in value. 

Step 6. Checking the background values.

Step 6

Here I check the value of the background and make a decision to add a bit more darker value in the lower right corner. Usually I take a break for a cup of coffee and then come back to the painting to look at the painting with more fresh eyes. This time I saw that some more value was needed and used a mix of Deep Scarlet and Verditer Blue, I love this kind of “silver gray” I get in this mix. 

Step 7. Adding the final details.

Step 7

The final details – I add some graphic lines with liner brush using the same dark mix I already have, and a most important character the painting – the beetle! Sometimes those graphic lines add a lot to the painting, but we should be careful not to make too much of them. And don’t forget to sign the painting!

“Other Way” by Sophie Rodionov
Finished painting, “Other Way”, 15″ x 20″, by Sophie Rodionov
Sophie Rodionov’s palette of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors.

I love the DANIEL SMITH colors and have used these paints for years. For me DANIEL SMITH is the natural choice because they have a really wide range of colors and not only the basic, traditional colors which could be found in any brand. I often talk about PrimaTek Watercolors made from real minerals, the different interesting colors, many with granulating effects and how some, like Moonglow, separate into several colors when applied in wet washes. 


My basic palette has only DANIEL SMITH colors:

  • Nickel Azo Yellow
  • Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  • Aussie Red Gold
  • Perinone Orange
  • Quinacridone Coral
  • Opera Pink
  • Deep Scarlet
  • Sepia
  • Phthalo Turquoise
  • Phthalo Blue (RS)
  • French Ultramarine
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Teal Blue
  • Verditer Blue 
  • Lavender
  • Olive Green
  • Perylene Green
  • Lunar Black

I’m an artist who loves different textures, I fell in love with the Lunar colors –Lunar Earth, Lunar Blue, Lunar Black and Lunar Violet. In the demonstration of the cat painting I used two of them: Lunar Earth and Lunar Blue. I think they are like a gem in this painting, without them, it wouldn’t have the “magic” it has now. The effects of granulation can be used not only as background texture, but for the animals as well. I paint a lot of pet portraits and the Lunar Black turned to be one of the “must have” on my palette, and all my collectors have loved that effect in their animal paintings. So, I could definitely say that particular part of my painting style wouldn’t be possible without DANIEL SMITH Watercolour paints. And I would like to thank DANIEL SMITH for this.

Sophie Rodionov is an Estonian-born artist now living in Israel. Since 2013 she has been working as a full-time, self-employed artist, designer and illustrator with a range of art collectors, fashion and textile designers, brands and interior designers. Member of International Watercolor Society from 2017.
Her current work is a balance between abstract shapes and realistic forms, which shift between and create a layered world of captured moments. Sophie finds inspiration in every moment of life and trying to show that each moment deserves to be shown and has its’ own unrepeatable beauty.
Her works are held in private collections of over the world, including United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Netherlands and others. Sophie works with numerous top-brands and creates illustration designs for products for companies such as Papyrus, Metal Frame Works, Wendover Art Group and others.
Sophie enjoys helping social, un-commercial projects with her art. Among these projects are a BBC interior design show for people with disabilities, an auction for an animal rescue farm in California, an auction for a ballet school, wall art for the cat clinic at Wisconsin University and so on.
Sophie has a background as a glass artist and holds a degree in Bachelor of Fine Arts from Haifa University. Currently she is based in Israel and finds inspiration all around, she is available for art travel opportunities teaching art classes and workshops.

“Kora” by Sophie Rodionov
“Buddies” by Sophie Rodionov
Sophie Rodionov signing her finished watercolor painting.

Realistic Watercolor Painting w/Kelly Eddington

What do you love to paint the most? You’ll never know until you explore a wide variety of subject matter. This online workshop presents a sampler of popular watercolor subjects: landscapes, still life, and portraits. Kelly Eddington will show you how watercolor’s unique properties can do the heavy lifting in each painting. Watch watercolor create a serene blue sky, a soft shadow defining a cheekbone, and reflected light on a shiny surface—all in seconds. Watercolor is challenging and can take decades to master, but this medium’s special quirks are so seductive you might find yourself under its spell for the rest of your life.

The Mind of Watercolor w/Steve Mitchell

Watercolor can be one of the simplest mediums to use, but it does seem to have a mind of its own at times, giving it the reputation of being fussy and unforgiving to work with. In this four part workshop Steve Mitchell gets into the mind of watercolor and see what makes it tick. Success with watercolor depends greatly on discovering and anticipating how it reacts in real painting situations.

Celebrate World Watercolor Month: Sketching & Journaling w/Gay Kraeger

Capturing your world through art in a journal is a low-tech, highly rewarding experience, but you don’t need us to tell you that. In her friendly and conversational video workshop, Gay Kraeger guides you through learning watercolor one step at a time: the basics, quick sketches, page design, lettering, and watercolor techniques needed to create illustrations of your life in the form of an art journal.

The Importance of Blue: Artist Pablo Ruben

Daniel Smith presents watercolor artist Pablo Ruben and “The Importance of Blue”

Undoubtedly blue is the essential color in my palette and I have up to six spaces reserved in my usual work zone for them. My works are characterized by cold and grayish ranges, so the blues are completely irreplaceable. The blues that I use the most are: Indigo, Indanthrone Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue Chromium, Lavender, and Cobalt Teal Blue.

Diagram of the colors used for “Fuente de Castellar”

When mixed with different earth tones (Burnt SiennaBurnt UmberSepia, etc.) I get infinite ranges of grays for all types of planes (background, middle ground and foreground). Mixed with a single yellow, I get a great variety of greens, as I do not usually have greens on my palette.

Pablo Ruben’s DANIEL SMITH Watercolor mixes for making grays

In the reference work “Fuente de Castellar” (Castellar Fountain) the blue is the essential protagonist of the work since the source is the main element of the work. To achieve the main gradient, three blues interlaced and fused with the proper density are necessary to produce the depth effect.

“Fuente de Castellar” by Pablo Rubén

Pablo Rubén has been painting since he was a child, and the last 18 years working as a professional artist. President of the International Watercolor Society of Spain, he has joined in many of the most important watercolor Biennials all around the World: China, Korea, Thailand, India, Mexico, Canada, Belgium, Italy and has been awarded in International competitions such as American Watercolor Society, San Diego Watercolor Society, Slovenia International Watercolor Society.  He is a passionate artist of “Plein Air” work and has more than 400 awards in this kind of contests in Spain and France. As a watercolor instructor he has given workshops in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, USA, Brazil, and Mexico; being very appreciated as an art teacher. An avid traveler, urban scapes and all sorts of water reflections are the main subjects in his work, playing with aerial points of view to make original compositions. 

Pablo Rubén paintings demonstrating the Importance of Blue

“Pilar de la Horadada” by Pablo Rubén
“Alovera” by Pablo Rubén
“Membrilla” by Pablo Rubén
“Blue Bridge” by Pablo Rubén

Meet M. Graham Paint Artist Ambassador Ron Stocke, Watercolorist

“The watercolor medium is honest, challenging and always new. It is the oldest pursuit that I know and has enriched my life at every level. While sometimes frustrating even for the most experienced watercolor painter, it is invigorating and always a learning experience.”

An award-winning watercolor artist, Ron Stocke is a regular contributor to, and has been a cover artist for Watercolor Artist Magazine as well as other publications. Teaching comprehensive workshops throughout North America and Europe, he also conducts demonstrations and lectures on various art materials and creating a safe, environmentally friendly studio. Ron holds Signature Membership with the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society, Northwest Watercolor Society, is an elected member of the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, and a member of the American Impressionist Society. He has been an Artist Ambassador for M.Graham Watercolors for over 15 years.

Introducing Sarah Graham, Watercolor Artist

Sarah Graham, Watercolor Landscape on Watercolor Ground and Wood Panel

We are delighted to introduce DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist, Sarah Graham! Sarah will take us step-by-step through her process for making a watercolor landscape on Watercolor Ground and Wood Panel. All Daniel Smith WatercolorsSets, and Grounds are on sale for

Step 1 – Sketch for “Hillside Refuge”

Step 1: As always, the first step is the idea – in this case, a simple concept drawing in my sketchbook.

Step 2 – Painting DANIEL SMITH Titanium White Watercolor Ground onto wood panel.

Step 2: Prime a wood panel with DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Ground in Titanium White I like to have a number of panels pre-primed in my favorite sizes so that I can get started right away. This piece is on an 8×8 cradled panel. Drying time for one layer is about 24 hours. I usually do 2 layers and then sand it smooth for more of a hot press paper feel.

Step 3 – First pass with watercolor.

Step 3: When I put down the first pass of paint, I usually cover as much of the piece as possible in order to get rid of the intimidating white areas and to get a good feel for my colors and values as a whole. As with watercolor on paper, the colors are much more intense going down wet, so be brave and go bolder than you think! 

Step 4 – Beginning to build watercolor layers.

Step 4: When the first layer is dry, the colors have faded considerably, and I have a good foundation. Here I begin to build my layers, mostly very wet on dry, adding variation to the greens in the tree and foreground. Also adding plenty of colors to the sky and clouds – yes, there are purples, reds and yellows in both!

This is where I establish my core colors, which I complement as I layer with accent colors. (see next step for more on the accent colors)

  • In the skyUltramarine Blue and Phthalo Blue GS with hints of Cadmium Red Medium Hue and Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue.
  • The greensPayne’s Gray with Quinacridone Gold in varying ratios.
  • The gray blue distant hillPayne’s Gray and Ultramarine Blue.
Step 5 – Adding darker values.

Step 5: Now I begin to tackle the darker values and mature my colors with accent colors. I punch in some crisp darks to define the cows against the blue background mountain early on so I can keep track of where my darkest darks are headed. From this point on, every layer will be values and colors that answer to each other and keep the eye bouncing around the piece, eventually settling under the tree to rest with the cows.

  • Accent colorsQuinacridone Burnt Orange to warm up the greens. I also add it to the purples below to make my browns for the tree twigs and cows.
  • The purplesUltramarine Blue or Payne’s Gray with Cadmium Red Medium Hue make a muted purple. More red for warmth. More blue for cool tones.
  • Cool blue graysPayne’s Gray and Ultramarine Blue.
Step 6 (close up) – Details added last.

Step 6 (closeup): The bare twigs on the tree come last, however tempting it is to jump the gun – and yes, they are definitely the most fun part. I use a no. 2 round brush with plenty of bounce or a rigger brush.

“Hillside Refuge” by Sarah Graham

Finished Painting: “Hillside Refuge”. Finally, all the darks and middle values are in, and the warm and cool colors are well balanced. Each part of the painting is treated with the same numerous delicate layers, regardless of its “importance” to the piece, because every part needs to belong to the others. Deep shadows in the foreground provide a natural border that hems in the serene nature of the scene.

Step 7 – After adding a protective coating the painting is ready for hanging in gallery.

Step 7: Apply a protective coating and display with or without a frame. I have tried various varnishes and coatings, and I am still feeling out what I like best, so take the following with a grain of salt and add your own flair to it. Basically, it comes down to a matter of preference. I like for my varnish to give my paintings a strong finished presence. For this look, I have found either a) several generous layers of cold wax or b) a brush on satin varnish over a glossy spray isolation coat work best. Both of these methods are represented in the gallery pictures above and below. This is a relatively new and evolving field, so experimenting is probably the best way to find what works for you. Just keep in mind that competitive shows have varying rules regarding acceptable varnishes for watercolor pieces, so do your homework if you plan to compete with your varnished pieces.

Happy painting!

Sarah Graham

Sarah Graham portrait photo

Sarah Graham currently lives with her husband and young sun in Duncanville, TX and is known for her sensitive touch with watercolors, especially her portraits. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Houghton College and also studied art and portraiture in Italy. In addition to receiving national and regional recognition for her work in competitive art shows such as Texas and Neighbors Regional Exhibition and Society of Watercolor Artist’s International Exhibition, Sarah has traveled extensively, translating what she sees into wet color or pen-and-ink sketches. Sarah is frequently sought out as a demo-artist and juror for art associations and exhibitions in the DFW area. Her particular love is to find something to treasure in whatever she looks at, both in her art and in her life.

Introducing: QoR Light Dimensional Ground

A white, lightweight paste that spreads like frosting, Light Dimensional Ground by QoR can be applied smooth and thinly, or built up to create ridges, peaks and other interesting textures. The extremely absorbent surface of Light Dimensional Ground allows washes to spread quickly, while accommodating fine lines and detail as well. Try dropping color into lightly wet areas to create beautiful blooms. And during the month of March, QoR Modern Watercolors, Mediums, and Grounds are on sale at 40% off!!! If you haven’t experienced it yet, now is a good time to try QoR Light Dimensional Ground!

What makes QoR Watercolors different?

Check out this video which explains just what makes QoR Modern Watercolors different from other watercolors. SPOILER: It’s Aquazol®. You’ll want to check out the video anyways because the colors are so pretty. In any case, the patented Aquazol® formula is excellent for all your traditional watercolor needs but offers even greater capabilities than ordinary (traditional) watercolors made with Gum Arabic. Explore the range of vibrant colors and unique qualities of the only modern watercolor, QoR. Also, all QoR Watercolor, Mediums, and Grounds are on sale for 40% off!!! Sale ends March 31st, so don’t miss out!

Introducing Joanna Barnum, Watercolor Artist

We are delighted to introduce DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist, Joanna Barnum! Joanna will take us step-by-step through her process for making a watercolor portrait.

For this portrait painting, “Fae”, I started with a photo of my friend Amy, a dancer and professional fairy, who did an impromptu photo shoot with me at a festival. I liked her wistful expression and fanciful costuming as the main inspiration for the painting. This piece is an example of my typical portrait painting process in watercolor.

Reference Photo

I like to work with photo reference as the jumping off point for my portraits because of how a photo can capture fleeting expressions and movements, as well as the memories of a particular time and place. Although I also enjoy painting the model from life, and this practice informs all of my other drawing and painting, a live model is more limited in what can be sustained for several hours. Sometimes I hire specific models I want to shoot photos of (or press friends and family members into service), other times I’ll bring my camera to events to capture more organic moments. I particularly love working with dancers, actors, and all kinds of performers, since they’re very at ease in front of a camera. I might have a particular concept in mind when I start shooting reference, or I might just file the photos away and see what they inspire for me later on.

I look for expressions, gestures, and light that inspire me in photos, but I don’t worry about keeping the original composition of the photo, or painting everything exactly as shown in the photograph.

In this case, I first crop from a larger full body photograph, and then move the portrait 2/3 to the right of a horizontal composition so that we can follow the subject’s gaze through the composition. I plan to eliminate the extraneous background information, and handle the environment in an expressive way. I also plan to paint the overall colors a bit warmer than what my camera captured, since the photo has a slight cool caste to it.

Preliminary Drawing

I like to work on 300lb cold press or rough paper. I don’t stretch my paper, but I might clip it to a board to make manipulating the piece easier as I work. I’ll start with a fairly well defined preliminary drawing, which allows me to be looser and more relaxed with the painting process- I know that I already have my likeness nailed down. To avoid overworking the paper before I begin painting, I will transfer the basic lines for the image from either a separate preliminary drawing or a draft copy of my photograph, and then I will refine and develop the drawing using an HB (#2) mechanical pencil. I try to avoid excessive erasing.

Step 1 – Expressive background.

Since I want a loose, expressive background for this piece, I begin there. I work mostly wet on wet, painting a soft interpretation of the natural environment in the photo, leaving out extraneous elements. I also add a big swath of pink radiating out from the flower, to create sort of a magical feeling. I allow some of the background to merge into the shadow side of the figure. I also sprinkle some salt in areas of the background while it’s semi-wet to create small salt blooms as an additional atmospheric element. When I’m working a large area like a background, I try to use the largest brush I can, only switching to smaller brushes for more control when I need to.

Step 2 – Cool underpainting.

My basic process for painting a portrait in watercolor starts with a cool colored underpainting. This is a personal quirk I developed through trial and error when I painted lots and lots of (too cheap) portrait commissions right out of art school. Painting believable flesh requires using not just warm colors, but including some cools- and I found that painting some of the cools first helped to set them “under” the surface of the skin, and helped me get a good sense of the overall value structure of the painting right from the get-go.

It’s vital to note that this is NOT a full-value underpainting like one might do an umber “grisaille” in oil painting. Since everything put down on the page in a watercolor will remain visible through subsequent transparent layers, going overboard with this initial cool layer would be completely overwhelming. I just focus on the cool shadows I see. Large sections of the portrait remain unpainted at this stage.

Cerulean Blue, Chromium is the color I used most often for this stage. It has a slight warmth to it, and even at full strength, is not too deep in value. However, I will sometimes integrate greens, other blues, and purples at this stage, depending on the complexion of the subject or the lighting of the scene. On a subject with dark skin, the cool underpainting might shift to using more ultramarine blue and purples.

During this stage, I also make sure to put the white of the eyes and any visible teeth mostly in subtle cool shadow. Aside from any bright highlights on these areas, they are never fully the white of the paper. I also usually carry the cool shadows into other areas, like clothing, for consistency.

Overall, I tend to think in shapes of value and color, leaving fairly hard edges to my shapes. I might soften the edge of a transition within a face with just a little bit of clear water or with a dry brush texture, but “smoothness” is not something I concern myself with- I don’t think of it as a fundamental characteristic of watercolor. The major relationships are more fundamental in creating the illusion of realism. And any blooms or organic textures that arise in the course of painting are embraced and appreciated.

Watercolor bloom detail.
Step 3 – Lightest warm fleshtones.

Once the previous layer is fully dry (I use a hair dryer if I’m impatient), I look at my photograph and identify both the pure white highlights on the flesh, and the lightest light warm flesh tones. I put down a large wash on all of the flesh areas, except for the white highlights, in this light flesh color. It goes right over the cool underpainting. Indian Yellow, Pyrrol Scarlet, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Quinacridone Rose are the colors I usually choose from when mixing this color. There is no one exact formula- it depends on what I observe. In this case, the lightest light areas in the subjects face seem to shift more yellowish, so I used mostly Indian Yellow and Pyrrol Scarlet, well diluted. While this wash was wet, I drop in a little bit of Pyrrol Scarlet under the subject’s chin where there is a particularly warm sunny glow.

Step 4 – Mid-tone warm fleshtones.

Once again, I allow the previous layer to dry fully. Now I am layering my mid-tone warm flesh color on top of the lightest lights, leaving some of those previous light areas unpainted. Indian Yellow, Pyrrol Scarlet, Permanent Alizarin crimson, and Quinacridone Rose are again usually the colors I choose from for the mid-tones, although for a dark skinned subject, I may also introduce Burnt Sienna at this stage. The mid-tones on the subject look more pinkish to me, so I use cooler reds in the mix. There will also be variety from one area to the next in this layer. It’s important not to be too hesitant when painting the warm mid-tones. At this stage of the painting they will be the darkest thing on the face, which can lead to a tendency to want to paint them too light. Better to be a little more aggressive now, rather than realizing at the end of the painting that all of the mid-tones are too washed out.

Step 5 – Blocking in all the other areas.

Before I move on to adding more detail to the face, I make sure that all other areas of the painting are blocked in with an appropriate light color. I try to work a painting as a whole so that I can understand the overall relationships, rather than totally finishing one area while another is still totally unpainted.

At this stage I may switch to using mostly smaller brushes, as the areas I’m handling are getting smaller. I build up details and darker areas as needed to complete the painting. Colors here could be anything. As I darken some shadows on the flesh, I may return to using some cool colors. Small shadows that define the features can be warm darks or cool darks. I mix neutrals and darks using a variety of complementary color pairs.

Eye detail.

It’s important that the lights and darks in the finished painting feel well balanced and create a pleasing movement around the page. Sometimes there is a tendency for beginners to make the nostrils and the pupils of the eyes the only dark areas on a face, which looks odd. And when it comes to details like the texture of hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, it’s important to observe carefully and not default to a cartoon idea of what these things look like. Think about bigger shapes first, with individual hairs being just an enhancement in certain places.

“Fae” by Joanna Barnum, 12″ x 16″, 2019

Tips for painting portraits in watercolor:

Use the largest brush comfortable for an area, and switch to a small one for more control or detail only when you really need to. Don’t get caught up in trying to cover a lot of area with a tiny brush.

Think of breaking down the major value changes in the face like creating a stencil. Big shapes and accurate values are more important than smoothly blending one value into the next. A preoccupation with blending and smoothness can lead to an overworked painting, or a face that lacks structure.

Embrace the fundamental character of watercolor. Allow it to be alive and do what it wants to do, to some degree. Accept blooms, tide lines, and other organic textures that arise naturally during the painting process as a beautiful, natural part of the process rather than fighting them or trying to “correct” them. An organic “accident” is more beautiful than overworking an area trying to force it to behave in certain way.

Don’t isolate features – don’t think of a “nose” or “lips” as separate objects that need to be worked separately from the rest of the face. Work in big connected shapes.

If realistic full-color flesh tones are the goal (as opposed to an intentionally limited palette- which can also be great) it’s important to have both a warm and a cool red.

All flesh contains cool tones as well as warm tones.

Materials:

DANIEL SMITH Watercolors – I love how pigment rich DANIEL SMITH Watercolors are, enabling me to achieve intense color saturation easily; and and how readily they re-wet back to full strength even when left to dry on a palette – just like new with no scrubbing or rubbing! The wide selection of colors offered, including those with unique properties not available elsewhere, means each artist can choose precisely the palette that works best for them, and find exactly what is called for in any circumstance.

  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Pyrrol Scarlet
  • Indian Yellow
  • Sap Green
  • Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cerulean Blue Chromium
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Payne’s Gray

Brushes

  • #1 round – Synthetic white sable
  • #4 round – Synthetic white sable 
  • #10 flat – Synthetic white sable 
  • 3/4” flat – Synthetic white sable 
  • 2” flat – Synthetic white sable 
  • #16 round – Faux squirrel

Palette – For small pieces and travel, I use a plastic one with individual wells for color and large divisions for mixing. For large paintings, I use a variety of enamel butcher trays and individual ceramic dishes.

About the Artist:

Photo of artist Joanna Barnum

Joanna Barnum uses watercolor to express universal emotional states and the unique spirits of her portrait subjects, balancing experimental, abstract use of the media with sensitive realism and symbolism.

She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006, and has since made her living as an artist across the realms of fine art, illustration, and teaching. 

She is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society and serves on the boards of the Baltimore Watercolor Society and the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters’ Association. Joanna’s work has been recognized by American Illustration, Illustration West, the “Splash: The Best in Watercolor” series from North Light Books, Infected by Art, and at juried watercolor society exhibitions and plein air painting competitions around the country. 

She has worked with clients and collaborators including Renegade Game Studios for the game Overlight, NASA, AARP, Cricket, Faerie Magazine, Eating Well, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Her work has recently appeared on Every Day Original online, at Abend Gallery in Denver, CO, and at Rehs Contemporary Galleries in New York, NY. Joanna also teaches her approach to watercolor as a guest workshop instructor for watercolor societies and institutions.

Joanna currently lives in Harford County, Maryland with her husband and their greyhound (and studio manager) Zephyr.