How to compose a Watercolour Portrait in Loose or Impression Style ?

Updated: Jun 7

Generally, we all know a portrait refers to a creative presentation of a person’s face in a particular artistic medium. Today, I am going to talk about the watercolour portrait in a loose style.

We as humans have a strange obsession with observing the features of others and self. Maybe this is the reason that Van Gogh’s self-portrait or Da Vinci’s Monalisa are some of the most talked-about and eminent pieces of art when it comes to painting.

In Impressionism, unlike hyperrealism portraits, not only captures the facial features of the person who is the subject but also reflects the mood, the perspective of the creator, and his style and approach. How he/she captures the particular moment of another person, how he/she frames the emotion, their approach, brush strokes create a lot of impact on the subject. The best part is that you will see the artist's signature style through the work without interfering with the facial feature, the look and the mood or emotion. And that’s the beauty.

For me the composition of a portrait through watercolour is all about capturing the person at that particular moment, capturing the mood, emotions, the essence of the character rather than focusing on the minute facial details.

While creating the portraits I go through two stages.

  1. First I refer to the face as a box with few defined lines and major shapes. It helps me to understand the use of the face in terms of it facial characteristic.

  2. At the second stage, I only focus on the value- light and shadow. I love to paint faces that have ample lights falling on them. It makes an ordinary face looks so surreal and painting light on the face is so much fun. It adds instant life and interest to the ordinary subject. Mostly all of my portraits are with lights.

Unless you are a hyper-realistic artist, you must know how to ignore the minute details and how to pick up the features, that will tell the story of the face. Generally, my works are without pencil sketch. I call it "sculpting the face" with watercolour. I aim to complete a portrait within three to four washes. I take time to read each detail of the face, read the emotions, simplify the major shapes that define the face but my strokes are bold and simple without giving attention to micro details.

Bold brush strokes, loose style needs a lot of confidence that comes from years of practice, observance, deeper understanding of your subject.

I tell my students do not to look at the subject for every stroke they do. Try to memorize things at much as possible at one glance. Paint from the memory. Close your eyes and envision how you want your subject to look. It will help to build your creative style too. And of course, it does help to do loose style, bold strokes.

As a beginner, you must be obsessed with details. You want to paint and everything you see. You feel confused about how to start, how much is it too much, how less is too less, you are not confident of omitting things. You see each and everything when you look at the subject. We need to train our mind and eyes. We need to train our brain. The major reason sometimes why a portrait painting does not match with the subject because you do not paint what you are seeing. You are the slave of your brain and painting what your brain is instructing. We need to train our brain to see and observe things as we want. And all these come with practice each day. There is no shortcut.

If you are an impressionistic artist, then too many details are not good for your subject. You need to capture the soul of the subject rather than copying it A to Z. Your goal is to capture the essence of the personality along with major physical details. Your portrait needs to have a soul.

Last but not the least, while composing the loose style portraits, treat the face as a box and the facial elements, i. e eye, nose, lips etc as a different shape. Do not think you are going to paint each eyelash, brows or both of the eyes need to be symmetrical. Concentrate on shapes and the light. Once you master your eyes to see the faces as the shape and light that reflects emotion, you reach half of your goal.

Loose style portrait is a consequence of a harmonious and organic composition of light and shape, the right placement of the facial elements, creating an interesting background, adding your own creative style without compromising the facial features. Transparency, the fluidity is the major keys. It is a magical process and the results are most delightful to watch.

If you wish to join my classes or attend a workshop on watercolour portraits, Connect with me here - Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. I would love to help and answer your doubts, just DM !

Wishing you a creative escape ahead!


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