Santa brought me lots of goodies. One I especially was anxious to view was the DVD by Mary Whyte: Mastering Watercolor Portraiture with Mary Whyte. Mary's paintings are top notch. She not only gets a likeness (which some watercolor portrait artists do not do), she imbues a character to each of her models. She paints the African-American women and girls of Johns Island, South Carolina, and I know you've seen her work in major magazines. So, I watched the DVD Sunday afternoon, taking a few notes of things that rang true (or might have been new to me).
Mary's paintings are often more finished than the watercolor portrait sketch she shares with us in the DVD. I like the looseness of the sketch a lot and it has just enough detail.
Some things she says are important to her way of painting:
Planning - which means doing thumbnail value sketches prior to painting
Seeing where the light is on the face and figure. Whether it's a landscape, a still life, or a portrait, the artist is painting light and how light reacts on that form.
Not waiting until you have your portrait or figure painted before thinking about how to incorporate the background. Either paint the background first or early on, even if the background is nothing more than a quick wash of color behind the figure.
She uses 300# Arches cold press paper taped down to foam core and upright on an easel. I am always amazed at how many watercolor artists paint on an easel. She says painting this way, there is only one way the water can run = down; and that this gives her more control. She doesn't paint with a lot of juicy paint and water in her brush so she controls the amount of water all the time. This seems to be the key for her style of painting. She paints wet on dry paper and each time she rinses out her brush, she then blots that brush onto a paper towel so she doesn't have loads of water in the mix.
She used a very limited palette of colors in the DVD and says she doesn't use many colors in her paintings; just Permanent Rose/Quinacridone Rose
Raw Sienna + Burnt Sienna
Hookers Green (I don't think I've ever used Hookers Green)
Ultramarine Blue + Cerulean Blue
Skintones for the model were done with a mix or Permanent Rose and Raw Sienna in the light side of the face, then she went to the clothing around his face. Only then did she move to the shadow side of the face, first putting in the shadow shape from top to bottom of that side in a pretty bold brush full of Ultramarine Blue. While that was still wet, she went in with the PR + RS mix and overlaid that here and there, allowing it to blend on the paper without fussing with it. She rarely went back into an area once she put a color down unless she wanted to mix another color in. She got the look of the beard and moustache by doing it drybrush and leaving lots of lights.
I think I'll try some of Mary's tips on my next portrait, although I won't paint with my paper upright. She controls the amount of water so she doesn't get messy, and yet the finished portrait still looks fresh and loose - perhaps because she doesn't go over areas again and again.
Mary creates the character of her model by placing them in a specific place or positioning their bodies in a certain way or by what she adds around them (how much detail and other objects are seen). I would have loved for the DVD to be longer as it seemed to be over too soon - and I would have liked to see her do an additional portrait sketch, maybe a darker-skinned model. Oh, well, I guess a taste is what leaves you wanting more and I may have to see if I can take a workshop from her in 2011 or 2012. She has been one of my favorites for years and I have her books (which I highly recommend).
I think I'd like to be somewhere in between her style and the looser style of Ted Nuttall :) If I keep practicing, I may get there someday!