Wokingham Art Society
Return to Archive
Demo by Sue Smith, W/c Portrait, 19 June 2012
Our Chairman, Sue Smith, despite running the AGM (to say nothing of her other commitments), also took it upon herself to fill today's demo slot. Aren't we lucky to have such a dynamic chairman!

It was after 8 before she was able to start, not least because we were still enthusing about the Society's Jubilee Frieze. So it wasn't surprising that Sue had decided that a photo of the Queen would make a good subject for her portrait.
Choose your photo references carefully:

Beware smiling portraits (they can look false)
Remember that the camera flattens things, so one photo is often not enough.

Sue does a lot of preparatory work if she wants a good likeness. Apart from possible sketches of details, an eye perhaps, she usually does a couple of full size preparatory pencil drawings.
We can recognize people at a distance, without detail, so the overall shape and shadow patterns must be vital, even if we are not really conscious of them. Her drawings concentrate on getting shapes and tones right before detail (which just adds interest).

The main features for recognition are eyebrows, the crease (not lid) of the eye, the nostrils and, most important, the line between the lips. Sue's final drawing is on thinner drafting paper. When she is satisfied with this she transfers it to the watercolour paper using homemade tracedown, a light box or a sunlit window. Both drawings are kept to hand for reference, tonal in particular.
You can just see the ouline of the hat and shoulders and there are some very lightly-drawn flowers in the bottom left corner. Sue had already done a preliminary watercolour wash of skin colour (New Gamboge, Permanent Rose - and damp cotton wool to lift out highlighted areas).

She generally uses a couple of each of the primary colours: a warm and a cold. Both may not always be necessary: tonight she would keep almost entirely to the warmer ones.

Sue had put out a spot of each colour round the rim of an enamelled tin plate (better than plastic). This way, using the very tip of her sable brush she cold pick up pure colours from the outside of the spot or drag down from its inside into the wet mixing area.
With thin glazes like this, the order in which you do background, shadows/shapes and detail is not important. Sue chose to do a bit of shaping and then some detail.

She said she was not afraid of putting more colour on than was necessary - watercolour dries lighter and if it's then not light enough you can always moisten it and lift it out.
The actual work started when she added Alizarin (darker) to the original skin mix for areas of richer tone. Ultramarine was added for the darker shadows, including the creases.

The blue patch on the Queen's forehead was to cool the temple area where the bone is near the surface, and will lie underneath subsequent washes. She also touched in a little permanent rose onto the nose and ear.
Unless she needed hard edges, edges were all softened with a damp brush as soon as a new glaze was put on.

She then spent quite some time with a running commentary on the first eye, the nostril and, most important, the mouth.

Remember that the eyelid overlaps the eyeball, the upper lid overlapping the lower one and casting shadow accordingly. So paint the edge under the eyelid and draw it down over the eyeball and lower lid (alizarin and ultra or instead, for the real "black" darks, orange and ultra). There is a second softer edge, corresponding to the crease above the eyelid. Don't be tempted to leave the white of the eye white - it's not.

The nostril, similarly, has a hard edge at the top.

Although there are shadows around the mouth, the lower lip colour is barely different from the skin below. Unless contrasting lipstick is used there is no sharp edge around the lips - only where they meet in that vitally important line (I reckon this is one of the places where Sue will be doing some lifting out). The lips should darken towards the corners of the mouth to give them more shape.

End of demo
Obviously, by the end of the demo there was much more to be done.

Sue speculated about how dark to make the background, which has to throw the face, hat and flowers forward.

Smalt blue seemed to be favoured but she came back within days with a photo of the end result (probably finished, she says) saying that she had saved her smalt for another day, using ultramarine instead. The result seems to justify this decision.

You're a devil for punishment, Sue, but you certainly kept us interested all evening.

Many thanks.

Finished portrait

Return to Archive

All images on this website are the copyright of either the Wokingham Art Society or the individual artists
This document is maintained by Sam Dauncey