Watercolor & Gouache: Painting Portraits

See a portrait painting demo using characters from Wes Anderson’s film The French Dispatch.

45 min. video

This video provides tips and techniques for how to create a convincing portrait using a monochromatic color scheme using watercolor and gouache.

Techniques like the skull in the portrait to achieve a solid structure, a range of value and contrast, as well as how to use lighting to show volume are explained.

Demo led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artist Alex Rowe.

Video Walkthrough

  • How to make a living as a portrait artist: know that most people don’t want a portrait of a random person in their house.
  • Research the type of portrait artist you want to be: do you want to paint university presidents, governors, or something more small scale and casual?
  • Alex’s choice to use blue for his portrait of Frances McDormand.
  • A blue portrait has an “unearthly” quality to it since blue isn’t a color that occurs often in nature, the way brown does.
  • Watercolor is challenging, it’s tough to keep your brushwork fresh and spontaneous throughout the process.
  • A monochromatic portrait can have a little more “spice” if you add variations of purples and greens to the dark tones.
  • Tips for painting hair: try to see the hair as “clumps” of hair instead of individual hairs.
  • Look for the direction of each clump of hair.
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Prof Lieu’s Tips

Clara cartoon

When I went to grad school there were so many people who could paint circles around me, in terms of painting realistically. To be honest, a lot of their paintings were really not saying much, and I found them quite boring.

Clara Lieu

For me to train myself to paint with that level of skill in realistic painting would take away all the years I would have wanted painting the way I want to paint! I guess in theory I could take the time to learn those skills, but really, I’ve got better things to do!

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Watercolor Palette

  • Old Holland Watercolors
  • Old Holland Blue Deep
  • Old Holland Dioxazine Mauve
  • Old Holland Sepia Extrra
  • Old Holland Olive Green Dark

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