Monday, December 27, 2010


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!


Gillian Mowbray said...

Thanks for sharing, Rhonda - it's great to get an overview of available DVDs. I haven't seen this artist's work but I'm going to have to seek her out now!

Prabha Narayanan said...

I love that red african woman painting with red hat. Thanks to you, i have discovered Mary Whyte and how she goes about painting! I hope to see her DVD one day...

irinapictures said...

So many useful facts, thank you Rhonda. My summer workshop experience changed my palette and added courage to my style (yes, I call it "style")), it would be great if you join her workshop.

Vicki Greene said...

Thanks Rhonda, Mary Whyte sounds interesting and I will have to do some research. You will get there - you are definately on your way!

RH Carpenter said...

Gillian, I love watching other people paint portraits and seeing all the different styles. I always learn at least one trip or two from every DVD :)

Prabha, she may have an artistsnetwork clip on there to watch, if you check it out - this DVD was made through artistsnetwork.

I'm glad you found the information useful, Irina. I haven't changed my palette in a while - perhaps it's time? I have added Prussian Blue and Azo Yellow to replace other colors. I think I slowly incorporate other colors until my beginning palette changes - but slowly.

Vicki, see if there is a clip of her DVD on the artistsnetwork site - there may be a little freebie there.

Sadami said...

Dear Rohnda,
I met your lovely sense of humor and commnet on L.W.Roth and came here. What a blessing for me 2011 start!!! I really want to get her DVD.

I'm a big fan for Mary, Ted Nuttall and Burton Silverman. But there's no info, neither their DVDs nor books even at an art supply in Australia.

My palette is very similar(only 4 or so) and upright paper use. When I saw Mary's work in an "International Artist" magazine several years ago, I felt like asking her about a background. (*You wrote about it!!)
Ever since, I've checked her website and any interview in International Artist. Please upload more, if you can.

Thank you for sharing it. I have to dash to an art supply again. Wish me good luck. Hope 2011 will be a wonderful year for you.
Best wishes, Sadami

RH Carpenter said...

Thank you so much, Sadami, for stopping by and commenting. Your work is outstanding, truly beautiful, from your figures to flowers. I'm very happy to learn of your work so I can follow you, now :) I'd be happy to share more information with you. I'll get something more together and send it to you, if you wish. I hope you can get the DVD from

RH Carpenter said...

Sadami, I just saw where you can download the video of Mary Whyte's portrait DVD here at
I hope it works for you.

Sadami said...

Dear Rhonda,
Thank you so much for the great information!! I learn from you, too.
Wish you a wonderful 2011 ʚ(ˆ◡ˆ)ɞ !!! Let us enjoy painting lots.
All the very best,

Sadami said...

PS In turn, if you like, check my blog,
I did from part1 to 5. Have a wonderful, wonderful day!
Kind regards,

kathy said...

Just found your blog. Thank you for sharing. I love Mary Whyte's DVD, I did a quick watercolor while it played, and later did a pastel with it on. I usually try to find a DVD of the medium I'm using, it's nice to feel you're painting along with someone. I really need to join a plein air group here on Long Island! Back to reading the mail on Kate's group.

RH Carpenter said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Kathy. I'll check out your blog more when I have some more time to spend visiting :)

Sadami, I'll definitely read your posts about painting loose portraits and figures - it looks very good.