portrait sketches

Have a Little Tea with Your Ink

Ostrich (ZZKOKO) Flower Series Inks in watercolor sketchbook, images courtesy of Sktchy Museum app and Bjorn.

Every portrait with these non-waterproof inks is an experiment. Look what happened with the blue ink! When I touched the wet surface with the tea it separated into pink and blue in a kind of explosion which gave expression to the pose’s facial dynamics. Hard to do that on purpose!

This one was also non-stop experimenting. When I used the wrong blue ink, which turned out to be permanent, (the dark blue lines) I almost aborted. But I’ve learned that it is those mess-ups that provide the best opportunity to proceed fearlessly to new discoveries. Why not have those bold lines through the beautiful face?! They accentuate the drama, and after all, the red is already way beyond bounds, why not?!


Last of the 30 Faces

Every day of last month, on the 30faces30days Sktchy app was a new challenge for the portrait artist.  I learned so much in the struggle. The month (of April) is over, but I haven’t stopped drawing faces.  Here are the last of the month.day22

The prompt here was to play with color and value, and the subject was posed with strong, colorful lighting. So this was a good opportunity to practice juxtaposing warm and cool colors. I thought my application was pretty clunky, but was surprised by the level of believability achieved even so.


Oh this one was so much fun. His eyes were fabulous. And I got out my Chinese Orange gouache for the red. I should play with gouache more often. It’s opacity is a great counterpoint for watercolor as long as it’s allowed it own forceful presence. The paper in all of these portraits is Stillman + Birn’s gray toned paper, in a 9 X 12″ spiral bound sketchbook.


I’m still stumped by this one. Even taking great care with measuring to try to get the drawing “right”, I managed to lose the subject’s Asian-ness. Maybe I should start over and try again?


I stopped and photographed this one before I finished, knowing that there was no way I could pull it off.  I mean look at that face! classical gorgeous. And in the picture it dissolved into black. Very difficult to pull off, even with oil paint. And probably a bit impossible with watercolor unless you have artist quality w/c paper. But I kind of like the not-quite-finished version. After all it’s the eyes one is drawn to, and they are enough. . .and the mouth.


You guessed it. This one was about foreshortening. I’m not sure what this guy was doing up in a tree, but it made for a fun sketching exercise!


If you’re counting, which I’m sure you’re not, you’ll realize that I skipped a day or two. Not because I didn’t do the portrait, but because the result was so awful that I couldn’t bring myself to post it here (although I learned something from every one!)

This is day 30 and I am happy with the result, even though I really messed up. You know how important it is to counteract the mind’s tendency to get the proportions wrong, by measuring EVERYTHING in your drawing? That’s the main thing I’ve learned from this second month of every day portrait sketching (the first was January). You have to measure distances, like the distance from the bottom of the eye to the top of the head, but also draw vertical and horizontal lines to know how the features really line up!

So this drawing is basically wrong. And it’s at least the second time the same thing happened this month with a 3/4 pose. Her left eye is in the wrong place. But I didn’t catch it til it was too late.

So this happens a lot. If it’s not the left eye in the wrong place, it’s the mouth or the ear or the slant of the nose. You have to literally check everything before you declare it finished. Or you learn to appreciate your own creative wonkiness, which can be enjoyed by all without the need for perfection, because. . .

Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull. -William Somerset Maugham 

And that was the end of the month-long Faces adventure! If you’ve been working on portraits, I’d love to know what you’ve learned.

Portraits Plus. . .

I left my pencils and paints home this week for the Portrait Party at Sebastopol Center for the Arts and brought Prismacolor felt tip pens and my pocket brush pen. So no mistakes allowed. It’s all good, because you don’t have enough time – with the one to ten minute sketch periods – to make it “right” anyway.

We take turns posing for each other, the hardest part for me since I hate to sit still. By the end I was standing and sketching and moving to the music we could hear from the Peacetime concert band playing next door at Ives Park.


At some point we started doing whole body poses, trying to get some attitude in them and most of us switched to putting more of the body in the  drawings.


I combined a dark liner with a shading pen to get some quick volume.


Loved Cary’s pose, the Rosey the Riveter “attitude”. My paper was too small to get the whole figure on the page, a constant problem for me, regardless of how big the paper is! So many times the feet and the top of the head don’t make it in.

There are two more Portrait Parties scheduled – August 29 and September 26. Put it on your calendar if you would like to join us next time. We meet at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts from 5-8pm. Beginners and pros are all welcome.

Another Portrait Party!

A portrait party? You mean a figure drawing studio class? Or a party where you get your picture taken or sketched?

Well, none of the above, but all of the above. Our second Portrait Party held at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts last week attracted many new curious souls, some of whom wanted to observe, or in fact to pose and be sketched (without themselves sketching). But what we were doing was sitting in groups of six  sketchers and taking turns sketching each other (one person posing at a time). No teacher, but lots of sharing of ideas, techniques, and materials. We were fortunate to also have some accomplished artist/teachers among the crowd of enthusiasts.

We started out with one-minute sketches.


. . .and went up to five and seven minutes so I got out the watercolor and Inktense pencils. And rescued some hats I’d brought. (A little dog had curled up on them to take a nap, bored as I’m sure he/she was to be in a group of humans where no one was paying him any attention.) We had fun posing with hats. They really help to add some (additional) character to us characters.


No names here, because really. .  .it’s not about likeness. I have destroyed many a lovely person’s visage with my paint and pencils.


Can you tell that this was my favorite of the evening?


A hoody for a change.


A last minute dark wash pencil at the end, heavy handed, but oozing enthusiasm. . .

And we’ll be holding more of these portrait parties at the Seb. Arts Center, so I hope you’ll be able to come next time. Stay tuned for the dates!


Portrait Madness


Pentel brush pen and gouache in tan toned Strathmore sketchbook

I’ve been playing with this new Sktchy app, which is a great resource for us insatiable sketchers who are always on the look-out for interesting faces. I have it on my iPhone, so I can put my feet up in the evening and sketch on my lap (which is why my lines are so crooked!) People post photos to inspire and then the sketches they do of the photo sources.


Like this guy Jordan on the right, who I had to sketch because of those fabulous eyebrows.  I’m trying to get comfortable with the juicy brush pen, which is sooo expressive, but really tricky to manage the different angels to get fine and thick lines.

I’ve also been getting inspiration from old magazines.  This issue of Look in 1958 featured world leaders, like Hirohito.


I’m so used to painting shadow shapes with watercolor washes, so this requires relying more on line and has a comic strip quality.


The tan paper is best left as skin tone.  I got a bit carried away trying to get that dark handsome thing going with Valentino’s portrait


White and blue gouache and black brush pen, and it’s enough, mostly because of the tan paper.


The Press Democrat had this great photo taken at a Trump rally where there were confrontations among demonstrators.  Definitely a case of a picture being worth 1,000 words!