The Yin and Yang of Painting Portraits

Portrait Sketches

 

Most of the time I am painting landscapes from Canada and my travels.  The last couple of  weeks I have been focusing on watercolour portrait sketches as a way to practice accuracy.  I find doing these sketch book studies a lot of fun and at the same time challenging.  I think for the style of art that I do that drawing is foundational and always will be.  I believe it is really important to develop the spatial drawing skills that just comes from practice and close observation.

The Yin and Yang of painting portraits is for me a way of describing the relationship between accuracy to form and detail and at the same time keeping the pictures loose and allowing for the organic nature of watercolour.  I have heard it said of painting portraits that  “the soul is in the details”.  With that in mind I usually put more detail into the face and specifically the eyes.  While I am working carefully on the details of the face I am at the same time putting in loose washes in other parts of the picture.  It is a challenge to be loose and accurate at the same time. At the end of the day I am making a piece of art and so I am hoping to convey a little of the spirit of the person.

A Fresh Approach To My Watercolour Painting

Travel Sketching

When I am painting outdoors and time is limited, I will often sketch and paint in a different style than I would if I was in my studio.  The style that I use in my sketch books is often pen and ink with watercolour washes or pencil drawings with watercolour washes.  Its all fun either way and to approach a piece of paper as if it doesn’t matter about the outcome of the art work is liberating.

I think that the field sketches done while I am traveling are a big part of what I do and so I recently created a new gallery on my web site called “Travel Sketches” under the Painting Galleries section.  Not all of these sketches were created on location in some distant land but were recreated in the studio in this “lighter style”.  I have included a few examples from a trip to Nepal where my wife and I were hiking the Annapurna Circuit.  The picture at the top of this post is an example of one my studio paintings.

Travel Sketching

Travel Sketching

Travel sketching for me is a great opportunity to motivate and improve as an artist, as well as creating a visual diary of the places I go.

Two years ago I was fortunate in being able to travel for eight months to South America, Africa and Asia with my wife Lyn.  We visited fourteen countries on this trip and I sketched and painted as much as possible along the way.  At one point in Africa I no longer had a camera to back up my sketches and it was at this point that I really started to sketch in earnest as I had no other way to record visually what I was seeing.
This was an important moment of understanding for me in that it made me realize that I should approach all of my sketching moving forward as if I don’t have a camera and this is the only opportunity I would ever get to record what I was seeing.  This idea is a gentle reminder to me to do my very best while sketching on location and not to think that I can complete the picture later in the comfort of my studio.

When I look at the sketches I did on location on this trip I am transported back in my mind to that experience.  For me these drawings and paintings are very personal, in the same way a written diary can be.

Today I would like to show you some sketches from India and Nepal.  These two countries are enough to keep me busy producing watercolour paintings for a long time.