Watercolor Portraits over Zoom

Watercolor portraits by Michele Clamp
Watercolor Life Class Portraits

Watercolor portraits are something I haven’t done in a while. A lot of other watercolor painting but very rarely faces. Portrait painting takes the difficulties of watercolor to another level. Getting the facial features right, the skin color, how the light reflects off the planes of the face – everything needs to be right. And that doesn’t even touch on how hard it is to get a good likeness.

Portraits over zoom are great!

Today was the life session courtesy of the Newton Watercolor Society. We had our wonderful model Andrea who I think I’ve painted before at a Charles Reid workshop. I was pleasantly surprised how successful it was to paint at home from the screen image. Almost made me forget I wasn’t actually in front of the model. Of course there are differences. You have one point of view (although everybody has the same view which is nice) and the camera does odd things with the exposure and the color. But on the whole I got a lot out of it.

My Portrait Skills need some work

Now you may be wondering from my portrait results where the other two models were. Actually these three faces are all of the same person. I’ve managed to not only paint people who look nothing like each other but also are of completely different ages and indeed gender. Obviously need a little practice here.

The Process

I was working on Fabriano Artistico 140lb cold press paper and worked entirely with burnt sienna. Using a round brush I initially washed in the main values leaving the paper white for the light parts of the face. Initally I just put shadow in the eye areas and around the mouth and left any details until later. We only had a time of 15 minutes per portrait so things had to go fast. This meant any detailed treatment of the eyes or hair had to be skipped over. I worked wet in wet mostly – partly due to time and partly to not end up with any hard edges. It was extremely enjoyable and the time just whizzed by. On the whole I’m pretty happy although I obviously need to work on doing more observation of those fine feature distinctions.

Henri Lehmann Clementine Portrait in Watercolor

Henri Lehmann Clementine portrait in watercolor by Michele Clamp
Henri Lehmann Clementine portrait in watercolor by Michele Clamp

Today was an Henri Lehmann Clementine portrait in watercolor. The original is oil but I went crazy and tried it in watercolor. The likeness (as always) is off but it has something I think. Many thanks to Julie Beck for introducing me to this painting.

Sargent Portrait Study

Well if you’re ever feeling over confident about your painting abilities try copying a Sargent portrait. Definitely cut me down to size. I wasn’t attempting a likeness (and definitely didn’t achieve that) but wanted to see how I could do with the skintones. All in all not a bad attempt but will definitely need more work before next week.

Watercolor Self Portrait

Self portrait.  Michele Clamp.  Watercolor. 14”x11”

Self portrait. Michele Clamp. Watercolor. 14”x11”

The Newton Watercolor Society has been having zoom meetings where we paint for a couple of hours and then meet up and show what we’ve done. Great fun and it gets me to do things that I don’t usually do.

This week was self portraits. Eeek. Haven’t done one of these since I started painting again so it was going to be interesting. Came out ok – not a great likeness and insanely flattering but there’s some good work in there.

Progress shots:

Drawing and initial washes. Warm in the center and moving out to cool at the edges.

Slightly further along. Struggled a lot with the shadows. The photo could have had stronger side lighting but looking at my side lit face for two hours is not a happy prospect.


The final thing with the photo. After some hairy moments especially with the mouth it came out ok. I should do some more of these definitely. Maybe not self portraits though.

John Sulston Portrait

Portrait of John Sulston.  Watercolor by Michele Clamp.  14″x11″ on Saunders Waterford 200lb CP.

It was so sad to hear of John Sulston’s passing earlier this year.   In my previous life I had the pleasure of working under his leadership on the Human Genome Project in Cambridge UK.   His scientific vision,  ethics, and leadership are unparalleled.   He is greatly missed.

Having said that I really didn’t want to screw up his portrait.   I haven’t done a portrait in a long time and this was really hit and miss.   First of all you need to get a likeness.  This means concentrating on observation skills for shapes and angles.    Banish from your mind things like ‘now we do the eyes, now we do the nose’  and just get the relationship of the shapes exactly as you see them.   When I’d finished the drawing I definitely wasn’t confident :

The beard was throwing me off a little but I couldn’t see anything obviously out of whack so it was time to go in with the paint.

First washes – some warmth in the face fading out to cool near the hairline.  Very Charles Reid this bit.

Next to start on more details.   First the eyes, being careful to not paint them in outline but place pieces of color where I could see them.   Then onto the nose and mouth.  The mouth was the trickiest bit – John had a very distinctive mouth that had a lot of humour and kindness in it.   Combined with the beard (oh that beard gave me all sorts of trouble) this could be make or break.

But the Gods were smiling on me and the likeness appeared out of the mist.   At this point I did a test and showed James asking ‘Guess who this is!’.    Thankfully he guessed right and also gave very good advice to not do too much more to it.

It was very good advice which I promptly ignored.  Thankfully I put the brushes down before doing too much damage and I’m very pleased with the final thing.