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.

Loomis Sketch

I’ve been rooting around for something that really tickles my fancy to get me back into painting again. One of my Christmas presents was Andrew Loomis’ Creative Illustration book which has a lot of top notch painting advice and I highly recommend. One of his example paintings is of the lovely lady above and, as I haven’t done much figure work recently, I thought I’d have a go.

She’s done entirely in a combination of ultramarine and burnt sienna. I wanted to try and combine the granularity and washiness of the watercolor with the subtle range of tones in the flesh and face. Pretty happy with the result although the facial likeness to the original is not that close.

Here are some intermediates:


Started off with a rough pencil drawing and a fairly light wash to put in the main areas of light and dark. I was careful to not leave hard edges where they would draw attention to themselves but also lose edges where the values were similar.


Next I went in with some darks to define the arms and shoulders and the hair around the face. I put some detail in the face but was careful to keep the values light.


Next was putting some detail in the dress, defining some of the folds but leaving other areas quite in distinct. Some subtle shading for the hands but kept them with low value contrast so they don’t detract from the face. The face went in next and was almost a disaster as I was working quite small here.


The final thing and managed to stop before I ruined it. A little more definition in the face and some more interest in the background to frame the face. A little more detail in the hands and a few tweaks to the dress more to aid the composition than anything. Phew!

Self Portrait with the Newton Watercolor Society

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.

Nighttime Doodling

Noodling on the ipad last night I tested drawing some people from imagination. Tricky but quite satisfying.

Life Class

Life class again last night – this was the last of the session. I thought the session had gone pretty well over all but I didn’t check over my work until this morning. Experience has shown me that how I feel the session went is not necessarily reflected in the result viewed later so I opened the sketch pad warily. But it seems my impressions were right this time. Hooray! I’m really feeling my way round the shapes much more confidently and even the hands and (sometimes) the feet are coming together.

So, as usual, we started with some 2 minute poses :

There’s some very nice stuff in here. I started off a little sketchily (first photo) and I had a few thoughts of ‘how do I do this again?’ but got into my stride quite quickly. Quite happy with these considering they’re only 2 minutes each.

Next a 10 and three 15 minuters.

Even had some time to do some shading on the 15 minute ones. Still having trouble with feet and hands but it’s a world away from where I was a while ago.

Finally 2 twenty minute poses.

Again I was fairly happy with these. Some screwups on the hands and feet but then there usually are. A good nights work.

Finally many thanks to Andrew Cefalu for organizing and monitoring the session and to Lindsey our model.