Portraits on Toned Paper

The Sktchy app keeps feeding my need to explore various media while practicing portrait skills; perhaps for the eventuality of finally being able to do portraits of new people I meet in person. . .unmasked. What a concept!

So here’s the latest, as I draw along with the current #30faces30days artists, only not in pencil, which is what is being encouraged this month. I’m alternating on the gray, black and beige toned papers in the 7″X10″ Nova Trio sketchbook by Stillman And Birn.

pen, watercolor, gouache on gray toned paper
pen, watercolor, white gel pen, w/c pencil

Sometimes I get frustrated enough that I just start grabbing other media and scribbling. I almost gave up on this one, then decided I’d gotten a couple of things right and should be satisfied! Perfection is just so boring anyway. Haha!

I would title this one Medusa, even though it’s a gorgeous guy. He’s also an amazing artist you can see on Sktchy, Derek McClure.

White gouache on black paper

This was another great exercise in negative thinking! meaning applying paint in the exact opposite way one does on white paper. I started the only way I could think, by drawing with a white pencil and then struggled to apply the gouache in a variety of values, but it didn’t exactly cooperate, at least not using my watercolor application methods! But if you overlook the messiness, at least it’s not a boring portrait, and my design brain got a real workout.


More Faces From Sktchy

It’s become a kind of peaceful occupation, usually before or after dinner, contemplating faces with pen and paint in hand, inventing some colors, changing up the watercolor with pastels. Here’s some more.day26

fine liner pen and watercolor on tan toned paper, finished with pastel pencil


. . .a bride dripping flowers. . .


. . .a very young beauty with a magnificent mane. . .


. . .a fascinating man, posing as a troll.

Variety is the spice

A variety of faces, that’s what I enjoy about the Sktchy app. Young, old, men, women, racial differences, attitudes and expressions. . .variety is the spice. And what great practice! I fuss over each portrait until I get bored and stop before I’m really finished, which means before I’ve totally lost it!


Sticking with the gray toned paper here, drawing in pen, painting with watercolor and finishing off with a bit of white gel pen, pastel pencil or gouache. The paper buckles from the wet watercolor and makes it hard to photograph evenly.


I just didn’t have a good strategy to paint the very dark skin and didn’t want to ruin it, so I stopped!

day8 I loved the drawing and the hair, but messed up on the shadows, making them too purple. Argh.


That glorious hair was a lot of work and I wasn’t happy til I got out the blue violent gouache.


Another handsome young man and this time I didn’t make the black skin too dark!


Now that I’m starting to get the hang of painting dark skin I’ve forgotten how to do light skin! Luckily the 30faces30days challenge is still going!

Expressive Faces

Oh I do love to draw and paint people. Here’s the latest. The Sktchy app is so great for finding really expressive faces.


watercolor, black pen and white gel pen on gray toned paper


There’s a new month of Sktchy’s 30faces30days challenge. This gentleman totally charmed me with his picture. I mean can’t you imagine all the years he spent out in the sun? And I do hope that now he’s a jefe, a boss man with his own ranch.


And Mr. Nakashidze, what a face you have! I can’t guess what country you’re from.

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.

More Faces

Still sketching a face every day on the #30faces30days challenge on the Sktchy app, but I’m way behind posting them.  That’s because it’s always a choice between doing the sketch or posting. So here’s a bit of catch up.


pen and watercolor and pastel pencil on gray toned Stillman and Birn paper


Loved the drama of the pose and found the black ink part to be scary, but loved the result. There’s just no way to be timid with black!


This Muse is someone I’d like to meet! The complementary color scheme was suggested in the photo and I just amped it a bit.


Dig the attitude! Lots of confusing perspective here, and the hands!


And snow! Something we never see close up where I live in California, just a dusting on the hills. I really gave the white pastel pencil a work out with this one. Can’t imagine how I would have managed with just watercolor.


Now THIS is the kind of face I love to sketch! She’s probably a very nice person, but it looks like she’s scolding someone here. Maybe it’s one of those idiots who aren’t following the Shelter in Place protocol and putting us all in danger!

Today’s the last day of the challenge. I’ll get the rest of the sketches posted soon. It’s getting so that when I close my eyes I see faces. . .really interesting ones flashing on the inner screen! But I’ll have to give it a rest and switch gears for a while. . .maybe. . .if I can.

Faces 6-11

Pretty faces are OK, but faces with attitude. . .those are the best to try to draw. And the #30faces30days Sktchy challenge has lots of those. Here’s some more of my efforts. Rather than following the prompts and lessons offered, I’ve been trying to stay a bit consistent in my efforts, working on Stillman and Birn Nova series gray toned paper, drawing first with pencil, then inking in, adding light watercolor applications in warm and cool colors, and ending with pastel pencil and white gel pen.

Day 6 Bella

Oh yeah, and trying to stop before I get bored.

Day 6: Bella Lambert   I find hair particularly difficult to stay interested in, especially when there’s a focal interest, like these great pouty lips!


Day 5: Delphine Lily  The lesson on Day 5 was about hair, so I forced myself to paint it, and I think you can tell.

Day 8 Marcus

Day 8: Marcus J. Bright  Another great attitude pose! And all the features in the “wrong” place, which really helped, because you couldn’t assume anything but just had to trust in what you actually saw. Like top of ear down below the lip, and what a lip!


Day 10: Stuart Goss I didn’t rush this one and went back in after the painting with some more line definition.


Day 11: Shannon Dada   I was really rushed with this one and came in really fast with the paint. I’m learning that it is hard to get the eyes focused right. Seemingly infinitesimal changes make a big difference. These were particularly challenging. My favorite part is coming in with the bright white at the end.

OK, back to sewing masks now.

Sktchy’s 30 Faces/30 Days, April

Are you doing Sktchy’s 30 faces in 30 days ? I don’t think I’ve ever completed one of these 30 day art challenges, having religiously sketched something every day, but so far this month, four days in, I’m on it!

Of course when you’re sheltering in place it helps to have the motivation of being told what to do every day. And the great thing about this 30 faces/30 days is that you have a teacher’s demo to watch every day. I like to watch while I’m drinking my morning chai.


graphite on toned paper (gray actually, though it doesn’t look so here)

The suggestion on Day 1 by teacher Mike Creighton was to do three quick sketches, 5 min, 10 min and finally 15 minutes to warm up and improve with each try. I just rarely give myself the opportunity of repetition and it really works.


Then I took the 15 min. sketch and added w/c and pastel, inventing the color since there was none in the picture.


Pitt artist pen and fountain pen on white paper, direct to pen

Day 2 the suggestion by teacher Dylan Sara was to draw directly in pen, slowly working around from shape to shape, and then use vertical hatching to do the shading. The picture of Jacob Palmer had wonderful shadow shapes to work with. I normally find hatching to be tedious, but actually this was quite fun and I realized that if I slow down enough, I can skip the pencil sketch and go right to pen.


watercolor, fountain pen, and white gel pen on toned paper

Day 3: The teacher Cecile Yadro chose a duel subject and demonstrated different ways of checking the drawing’s accuracy. I just loved that she chose an old woman as a subject rather than some hip young person for a change. I can relate to the veiny hands! There was no need to paint in the stripes on the cat and the woman’s coat. I think the story was already told without. The woman loves her cat and the cat, well, goes along with it.

30facesday4 Day 4 (today) the teacher was Vin Ganapathy, and his lesson was to start with a fast and loose contour drawing (outline without lifting the pen off the paper much) and then work on salvaging the inevitable errors by putting in finer details. The picture was a bit wonky, but that made it more like sketching a caricature, which was fun! I chose paint over hatching for the shadow because it saves so much time! (I can see how the same toned gray paper looks a different color in each picture. I guess due to ambient light in the room.)



30 Faces/30 Days on the 18th day

I’m still at it most (not every) days, trying out the prompt on Sktchy’s 30 Faces/30 Days challenge. Each day comes with a teacher’s tip and a photo of a “Muse” to sketch. I’m learning so much, and finding some new teachers with different approaches to infuse into my own portrait work.

The following are my sketches, with the names of the teachers who gave the tips listed. You might want to look them up, or have a try at the challenge! It’s a course this month, for only $30.


Look how simple! Just drawing quickly in pencil, and picking two shapes , negative/positive, to add color. (teacher Chantal V.)


Using line here in a sculptural way. (teacher patrick Hochstenbach)


I did love it, for the first time ever, doing teeth! (Teacher Margriet Aasman)


Marking off proportions first for greater accuracy. (Teacher: France Van Stone)


Contrasting warm and cool colors. What an expression, huh! (teacher Gunhild Hope)


This one on gray toned paper. Making lines with energy!  (Teacher: Margriet Aasman) The gray paper somehow makes it easier to tone the skin color. There’s almost no white here, just a tad on the lip and not even in the eye!