Painting a Watercolor Portrait of a man

How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.


2H pencil
Watercolor paper

Watercolor paints:
Winsor Red, Prussian Blue, Winsor Yellow, Burnt Umber

Chinese goat-hair brush

Project Background

Because of the portrait I did for Linda, I also got to know a lot about her husband, Don, and how the met. I agreed to do a portrait of him as well. Don was a college professor, but now works for a computer science research corporation.

Knowing that Don likes to read, I chose his home library for the sitting. I did a few preliminary drawings and decided on the final concept and design for the portrait. I also took a number of digital photos. Back in the studio, I started the painting process by drawing a likeness of the subject, using a 2H pencil on high-quality watercolor paper.


The drawing stage is often the first step in the process. A drawing is usually necessary when a likeness is required. Use a 2H pencil to outline the important elements, leaving the pencil marks on when the work is done as part of the total artwork.

We are going to use a different method in this portrait. In the Chinese painting process, there is a method: bone comes before meat.

How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Start from the "bones"

In this portrait, we will be using the three primary colors plus Burnt Umber, occasionally Burnt Sienna. Apply a thin wash to the head, using dark and rough strokes, setting down the value and weight as the base for the rest painting process.

When I feel the push from inside, I do not try to hold it, but to express it, and go with flow of my feeling.



How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Apply the "meat"

Quickly, after the previous color is stabilized and absorbed, apply the wet colors over the dry strokes. The goal is to quickly shape your impression of the subject into the painting . Start from strong, rough, then rich.

I believe that a painting (or any kind of art) is a statement from the artist. It comes straight from the heart of the artist. It is emotional. It is the medium that the artist uses to communicate with the viewers.


How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Balance of the warm and the cold

While you are giving more definition to the subject, you can also be working on the balance of the warm (red and yellow) and cool (blue) colors. Add pure Winsor Red mixed with water to the chair and, at the same time put pure Prussian Blue on to the shirt. Then, add Winsor Yellow directly to the side of the chair, the pants, and books.



How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Finish the balance and value

At this stage, there is no need to narrow down your attention to a small area. Focus on the overall balance and color values. The wall or anything else in this painting is as important as the eyes or the nose. Lay another wash onto the back of the chair, add the details to the globe, and rough definition to the hair. Keep working on the big picture, until you are totally satisfied with the overall balance.

There is also an emotional balance inside of us. The creative process is the process of expressing the artist's emotional statement. This emotion should show through every stroke, every wash, and in every corner of the painting.

How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.


Now is the time to add the final details, to bring the portrait to life.

Many people may not be able to imagine how a portrait could turn out so beautifully when it started so rough (and even "ugly"). Every step in the process moves the painting closer to the artist's initial emotional impression of the subject. No matter what approach or method you choose to use, the important thing is that you are expressing your own emotional impression. This impression is always complex, often more than words can describe, but shines through your art. Keep working on your inner discovery at the same time that you are learning new techniques.