Painting the Self Portrait Step by Step

This morning seemed the perfect time to start my self portrait. Dawn was bright and the air outside a crisp 4 degrees Fahrenheit, so why not stay inside and fiddle with paints? Things turned out far better than I had anticipated. For those of you unfamiliar with watercolor painting, it’s done in stages, starting with the lightest and most translucent colors. Each wash gets gradually darker, and if you go too dark too fast, there’s only so much “erasing” you can do, because painting over something lighter doesn’t work — the darker color always shows through. So watercolors are fairly unforgiving. But I’ve found through the years of dabbling in it that I’m so drawn to watercolors done well, so I keep on trying to get better.

I thought it might interest you to see how one gets from a drawing through the various washes to the final product, so…

First there's a light line drawing (too much pencil shading can destroy a watercolor painting, so the key is to stop before you think you should).
First there’s a light line drawing (too much pencil shading can destroy a watercolor painting, so the key is to stop before you think you should). This photo distorts the drawing a bit on the squatty side. Better angles on the rest…
Next lay a light wash (you can always go darker). Mine is a mixture of burnt sienna and alizarin crimson.
Next lay a light wash (you can always go darker). Mine is a mixture of burnt sienna and alizarin crimson.
I added cobalt blue to the skin mixture to get the tone for the shadows and used a darker wash of the original, with a bit more of the red, for the lips.
I added cobalt blue to the skin mixture to get the tone for the shadows and used a darker wash of the original, with a bit more of the red, for the lips.
Cobalt blue for the eyes, starting light. I'll add some payne's gray to the blue in a later wash.
Cobalt blue for the eyes, starting light. I’ll add some payne’s gray to the blue in a later wash.
This is where I figured I'd really mess up. When you first start adding dark colors it's a little nerve wracking because they are so hard to fix if something goes wrong.
This is where I figured I’d really mess up. When you first start adding dark colors it’s a little nerve wracking because they are so hard to fix if something goes wrong.
Now for the hair. Lay in the lighter warm highlights first. I used raw umber for mine. I also darkened the lips a bit at this point.
Now for the hair. Lay in the lighter warm highlights first. I used raw umber for mine. I also darkened the lips a bit at this point.
Here's where I really started thinking this would not work. The hair just didn't feel as nicely rendered as the face, though I knew most of it would get swallowed up by the black background eventually. The reddish brown tones in my hair are done with burnt sienna. The darker the color the less water I mixed in.
Here’s where I really started thinking this would not work. The hair just didn’t feel as nicely rendered as the face, though I knew most of it would get swallowed up by the black background eventually. The reddish brown tones in my hair are done with burnt sienna. The darker the color the less water I mixed in.
Now we start to get the background color and the shirt color. With such a dark background, you can see the flesh tones started to look too light, so I had to go back in and darken them.
Now we start to get the background color (a mixture of payne’s gray and burnt sienna) and the shirt color. With such a dark background, the flesh tones started to look too light, so I had to go back in and darken them. I also added more of the crimson to my cheeks.
Here is the final product. I kept going back in and adding more shadow to counteract the dark background. Not sure I'm quite happy with the way the hair darkens and blends with the background, but overall it did turn out better than I thought it would. And with watercolor you have to be careful of not going too far. You have to quit while you're ahead sometimes.
Here is the final product. I kept going back in and adding more shadow to counteract the dark background. Not sure I’m quite happy with the way the hair darkens and blends with the background, but overall it did turn out better than I thought it would. And with watercolor you have to be careful of not going too far. You have to quit while you’re ahead sometimes.

And because it’s so fun to see a reference photo and a painting side by side…

Side by side, I can see where I went a little astray with the eyes. But, all in all, not too shabby, I think!
Side by side, I can see where I went a little astray with the eyes — one looks further back in my head than the other. But, all in all, not too shabby for the first try. I’m amazed I got the colors as close as I did.

You can definitely tell I am not a professional! But it’s a fun hobby to pull out now and then. Now the perennial problem…what do I do with it?

Making Mosaic Preparations

The drawing has been transferred to the table, the supplies gathered, the colors chosen.

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Long ago I ordered a bunch of really nice, high-quality porcelain tiles from some website (I can’t remember anymore what it’s called) to have on hand when the mood or opportunity struck.

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The only thing I’ve made up to this point is this. (I can see from this photo that I need to get some kind of grout cleaning agent for the sky above the flying sparrow.)

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I saved the table from the church dumpster (just as I saved my rabbit’s table from a neighbor’s dumpster) and spent many hours snipping and gluing in the basement.

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I think I’ll enjoy working in the light of the sunroom this time around.

Reclaiming an Occasional Hobby

Lately, I seem to have rabbits on the brain. I recently read a long interview with the now elderly Richard Adams, author of Watership Down,¬†the book that anchored my childhood reading. A friend’s rabbit surprised her by having kittens (which is what baby rabbits are called–it didn’t spontaneously produce baby cats). One of those little baby bunnies has gone to live with another friend. And of course this is the time of year Midwesterners start pining for spring and all that comes with it–warm sun, flowers, rabbits munching the new grass. We know it will be long in coming, but…can’t we have dreams too?

Anyway, all this ruminating on rabbits reminded me that I had planned to mosaic a little half-circle table that I saved from a neighbor’s dumpster with the image of a rabbit poised in mid-leap. Maybe now’s a good time to start moving on that project. So this morning I quickly sketched up what I’m thinking.

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Mosaic is the perfect mid-winter project–indoors, slightly tedious, and you come away from it with something beautiful. I’ve got a few manuscripts for work that I need to listen to. Making a mosaic at the same time¬†would be a lovely way to get double use out of the time. So if you’re looking for me next month, you’ll probably find me in the sunroom, snapping little porcelain tiles into smaller pieces and arranging them in such a way as to suggest a rabbit where before, there was nothing.