Various artists use a variety of styles and techniques in approaching the painting of people in water-colour. Wash drawings, loose painting, careful studies, sketchy drawings, design concepts, and casual likeness are all proper techniques. Some artists like to emphasize the human figure and even paint portraits in water-colour. Water colour portraits or figure paintings offer an exciting challenge. This painting is done from a photograph titled “lady in sarie”.

Water-colour portrayal of a woman  

I have put down colours boldly and quickly working from light wash to dark. The photograph was used as a reference for values, shapes, and light.

Copying from photographs

To many teachers the word “photograph” is questionable and doesn’t belong in the artist’s vocabulary. But, if the artist remembers that he is creating a painting and not another photograph, then the photographs can provide a lot of subject matter. Magazines, various photographs and slides can provide lot of subject matter without painting outdoors. Unlike in other countries in Sri Lanka it is impossible for a person to pose for a portrait. Time and distance preclude such opportunities.

Therefore, select from the photograph as from nature, the principal parts of the composition. Don’t try to include everything. Keep it simple.

Make the sketch from the photograph and don’t refer to it again except to check values and characteristic detail.

Photograph, can provide valuable information regarding form, light, texture and value. Just remember to use it as information and not something to be copied exactly.

Keep it simple

Applying several techniques is essential to understanding transparent watercolour. The paint can be applied to dry papers or to wet.

Dry sheets lend themselves to line work, dry brush and a variety of washes, while damp sheets are necessary in using wet-in-wet-techniques. Don’t overwork the surface! Don’t add too many details! Don’t apply too many washes over each other, or muddiness will result. Water colours generally work best when kept simple.

Painting human figure in watercolour

Figure painting in water colour has a reputation for being difficult, if not down wright impossible. But, as so often happens in water colour, the biggest difficulties usually arise from the artist’s lack of confidence and an unwillingness to let go and allow the medium its fullest expression. Learn to enjoy the fluid and mercurial qualities of water colour - qualities that make it ideal for depicting the subtle lines and curves of the human form and the play of light upon its surfaces. The best watercolour portraits are not “posed” at all but are painted on the spur of the moment, perhaps when the subject happens to be relaxing in an armchair or strolling in the garden.

No boundaries

One habit that should be dropped like a hot potato is that of drawing a rigid out line of the figure and filling it in with colour. This kills any feeling of life and movement in the figure and effectively cuts it off from the background so that it looks like a cardboard cut-out. By all means make a few light pencil marks to plot the position of the figure, but don’t treat them as boundary lines that can’t be crossed; nothing should be allowed to inhibit the speed and flow of your washes.

Keep it fluid

If you work in a dry and sparing manner, with timid brushestrokes and a brush that is starved of paint, it’s not surprising if the finished result looks lifeless. Always use as large a brush as you dare, to discourage fiddly strokes, and load it with plenty of pigment. It is always good to work on damp paper; this makes it easier to lift out colour for highlights, or to wipe out mistakes. It also means that your colours can flood into each other wet-into-wet creating subtle, translucent skin tones.

Depth and colour

Water colour proves the simplicity can be solid base for a painting. The secret of success in painting in great part, lies in knowing when to stop, only painting what is necessary. This painting proves the forms of applying colours, and how the most transparent layers work on the white of the paper and the superim position of brushstrokes with the background. The colour of the skin is shown with a light wash of light red with a mixture of burnt sienna. The base colour of the hair is burnt sienna, enhanced by orange.

The dress is painted in successive layers of orange and red always very transparent, respecting the parts that contains the highlights. The creases of the saree is are painted with firm brush strokes. The background is painted with a very transparent ultramarine and windsor violet to give more depth with dark brush strokes. It must be emphasised that the object of this painting is above all, to interpret the techniques of painting human figure in water colour.

Points to remember

. In all water colour work, the initial drawing is a vital guide so that later developments find a good structure into which to fit.

. Using high quality paper is very important because with ordinary paper merging colours is practically impossible once the colour has dried.

. When putting down layers on the background, it is always prudent to start with the lightest tones and then, afterwards, if necessary, to intensify them progressively with successive layers of colour.

. The drawing is the foundation of water colour painting. It is used as a guide as to where to apply the various tones or colours. Therefore it is essential that the artist draw the lines correctly before starting to paint.

 

Tissa Hewavitarane

Wednesday, 2 June 2010