Lately I am focusing on portraits, mainly children’s portraits. I love being around children for many reasons. I always seemed to end up the babysitter or the one that the children feel most comfortable. I use watercolors for my children’s portraits because of the softness from watercolors. The innocence of children seems to come through with the watercolors.
Watercolors are actually easier too. You make a general sketch using either a photograph or a live drawing and fill in the colors like a coloring book. I begin with sketching the face and often end up with a Warhol type sketch that often looks nothing like the child. And I cheat with the watercolors, I use Chinese white. I know, true watercolor painters don’t.
But by using Chinese white, the watercolor or gouache as it is formally is called is easier to correct. If I make an error, I can paint in the Chinese white to correct the colors and the lines. And the reason I use it is because I can’t always get the watercolors to move the way I want. Sometimes when I ‘pull’ the watercolors, I move the colors too far. How do you pull a watercolor? By using a dry brush and dipping it into the wet paint on the paper and drawing up the paint into the brush and then moving the paint where you want it to go.
Painting with oils is different. You just let it dry and paint over it, painting over watercolor, even with Chinese white with water added, can just muddy a painting or just lighten the color. Adding water to a dry watercolor painting just wets the paint and makes it active again. So if you paint over with the Chinese white, you don’t add water to it.
And as you can see, the two types of paint produce two different results. One is light and almost transparent, the other is opaque and has a heaviness to it. This is one of the main reasons I use watercolor for my children’s portraits. To me the watercolors are less formal, less grown up and more playful and isn’t playing what children do best.