We are delighted to introduce DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist, Jansen Chow! Jansen will take us step-by-step through his process for making a watercolor portrait. All Daniel Smith Watercolors, Sets, and Grounds are on sale for 40% off during the month of March – so now is the perfect time to test out some colors, treat yourself to that set you’ve been eyeing, and/or experiment with new techniques!
To demonstrate the DANIEL SMITH watercolor paints and my appreciation and understanding of their characteristics, I have used my favourite 18 colors from the DANIEL SMITH Watercolour collection [see Jansen’s Dot Card colors and list further below] to complete this painting. The title of this artwork is “Tinkus dancer at the Oruro Carnival”. This painting was completed to participate in an International Exhibition organized by the Bolivia Watercolor Society. I chose a colour theme that can represent the National colors of Bolivia.
Today, I will share my creative process of how I created this painting in 6 simple steps:
Step 1 : Drawing / Sketching
I have a lot of ways to start my paintings. Sometimes I like to use a pencil to sketch out the details, other times I start with just a general pencil sketch, and occasionally I paint directly with a brush. I wanted this painting to appear more realistic, so I drew the face very carefully with pencil, but only a few strokes for the background as I wanted it to have a more carefree simple background.
Step 2: Mixing the colors directly on the paper
I personally do not like to mix the colors too much on the color palette but prefer to mix the colors directly on the paper. I first freely applied the DANIEL SMITH paint from my palette directly on the paper to add color to the face of the character and the hat with the colorful feathers, with a combination of thick and thin colour application.
Step 3: Completing the main subject
My usual technique is to leave the highlights of the main subject white, to capture the reflecting light rays. I then slowly painted the important portions of the main subject and applied more details to about 80% of completion of my artwork. Often artists will focus on completing the main subject to about 100%, but for me, I usually focus on completing it up to 70-80% of the whole artwork, so that there is room to add in more colors and strokes as the overall work is nearing 100% completion.
Step 4: Application of the background
I used a single color, Payne’s Gray, to color the background in an easy and free way with the brush and water spray technique. The grey background contrasts sharply with the main subjects’ vibrant and fresh colors! During this process, I pay attention to the space treatment and try to complete the background in an interesting manner during the application of colors by keeping some white spaces.
Step 5: Gradients of the background
I gradually added my favorite 18 colors both carefully and freely through lighter brush strokes. The usage of brushes at this stage is very important! You must use a softer brushstroke with the right pressure and direction to show greater space contrast between the background and the main subject.
Step 6: The Finish
In addition to the strong light illuminating the part of the main body through the white space left earlier, I used watercolor brushes of different sizes and design to apply all the colors on my palette with different strokes, from treating the light to dark areas, to applying bright to dark colors for the details and background of the main subject. Upon completion, you will see that this piece has a strong sense of music surrounding the main subject, because of the colors chosen and the brush strokes applied. The overall feeling of this painting is warm and happy! This really achieves the emotion that I want to express through this painting – that the world is beautiful!
I am very honored and happy to be able to share with you the creative process of my work. I hope you liked it. Thank you!
I have always liked painting this beautiful and colorful world with rich texture and colors, and DANIEL SMITH paints make it very easy for me to achieve that effect in my artwork. For me, DANIEL SMITH Watercolors are beautifully made, colorful and offer lots of choices. Most importantly, unlike other brands of paint, the richness and vibrancy of the colours assist me in capturing the beauty I see in this world and express that in my paintings.
My 18 Favourite DANIEL SMITH Watercolors on my Dot Card and used in this step by step article
Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue
Permanent Red Deep
Cobalt Teal Blue
Cobalt Violet Deep
Jansen Chow is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society (AWS) and National Watercolor Society (NWS). He won an art scholarship and studied in The Art Students League of New York, New York from 1994-1996, and he was a student of Mario Cooper, a great American Watercolor Master. Jansen has held 18 solo art exhibitions and took part in more than 350 National and International watercolor exhibitions since 1992. He has won more than 60 National and International awards in watercolor, oil, etching and photography since 1988, including receiving 1st place 9 times in watercolor competitions in USA, Canada, Turkey and Malaysia. Recently he was the IWS Malaysia Country Head, FabrianoInAcqurello Malaysia Country Leader, and the curator of “1st Malaysia International Watercolor Biennale 2018”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)
Cerulean Blue Chromium
#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:
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.