Portraits of children, especially younger ones, are very challenging to do in watercolor, and the challenge is even greater when the child is someone the artist knows and loves. Shown here are the five stages this painting went through this week, with the finished one posted first.

This little lady (my youngest niece) is very fair skinned with nearly white, silky blond hair.
As you can see in the next three photos, the hair was miskited carefully before painting began. The darker grayish areas are Pebeo Drawing Gum miskit, which will protect the white paper from paint and will be removed later.
After carefully completing the sketch, I applied the miskit with a thin rigger brush and allowed it dry. Next, the whole page was gently sprayed with clean water. Pale, warm colors were added to most of the face with a little blue touched in at the temple, forehead, eye, and cheek areas. The colors spread beyond the face in some areas since the whole paper was wet.
The lighted middle of the face was kept very, very pale with just a slight hint of color. Because the paper was wet, there was no attempt to 'form or shade' any shapes yet or to try to create any necessary edges.
The dark spot on her nose is miskit, and the teeth have miskit on them too. The highlights in her eyes are also miskited. Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Quinacridone Magenta were the warms used, with Cerulean as the cool.
When the wash was completely dry, darker values were added in shadowed areas of the face - third photo posted her. Careful attention was paid to the edges of each darker shadowed area, adjusting each edge before it lost its shine. The nose begins to have more definition and the face begins to look a little more three dimensional at this point.
Because there are no eyes or mouth at this stage, portraits usually looks pretty ghoulish before they're painted in. Next, color was added to all the hair areas where medium and darker values were needed, using Cobalt Blue and Quinacridone Burnt Orange.
The background was washed in next on dry paper with a juicy amount of paint, using colors that had already been introduced in the painting. Care was taken to darken the background near the head so that the blond hair would be visible when the miskit was removed, but it was crucial to avoid making a dark silhouette all around the head.
Before the miskit was to be removed, the facial features needed to be completed. The whites of the eyes were painted first, while the miskited highlights were still there, using pale Cobalt Blue. The top of the white eyeball area was painted a little darker to suggest a shadow under the upper eyelid.
The iris was done with Cerulean and a little Cobalt just as the Cobalt Blue in the whites of the eye was drying, and the highlighted side of the iris was a bit darker. The pupils, made up of Quin Burnt Orange and Cobalt Blue, were carefully centered in the iris while the paint was still just slightly moist. Lashes were nudged in on top and bottom, taking care to avoid outlining the eye totally with darks.
The brows were also nudged in to create a soft effect, using Quin Burnt Orange and Cobalt Blue. Once again, the edges of the brow were softened as needed so that they did not look pasted on. Also, the nostrils and ears were shaded a bit more, using darker, warm colors. The neck area also had to be darkened under the chin line with a little blue and warms.
The lips were a combination of Quin Coral and Magenta, as was the inside of the mouth. Once that area was done, the miskit could be removed from the teeth. Only a bit of pure white remained on the teeth after they were shaded with Cobalt and a little pink. The lines between the teeth are just hinted at.
Overall, more focus was given to the edges of shapes, how they disappeared or were soft or hard, than to which color to use. Specific attention was paid to just how dark one area needed to be compared to another.
The miskit was taken off the rest of the painting at this point. In this photo, the harshness of the miskit is evident since no paint has been added to those areas yet in the hair. Color was added to most of the previously miskited hair, but for the hair to look blond, some of the hair had to stay the pure 'white' of the paper.
At last, final touches were made, darkening the corners of the mouth, repairing the chin area, and adding a suggestion of shoulders and shirt - refer to the finished portrait at the top of this post.
I was really pleased that this worked out as well as it did. Many times, a child's portrait takes many attempts to get it right. This painting is high key, very pale, compared to my natural way to paint, and being able to keep it light was satsifying too.
As usual, preparation and drawing time took about 75% of the time, with the actual painting time maybe a little over two hours. If someone asked me how long it took to paint this portrait, I'd say, "Three hours and forty years."
This is a Christmas gift for my brother and his wife, just a little late. Must get it in the mail this week. It sure was a delight to paint it for them. My niece's Christmas gift was a palette full of rich wonderful colors to paint with, and she did that VERY well.
"ALMOST SEVEN" Transparent Watercolor on 140#CP Arches COLLECTED


Chris Beck said...

Absolutely beautiful, Sandy! You've captured her delicate coloring very well.

Ann Buckner said...

Bless you Sandy for posting the very helpful information on painting children and portraits in general. Your niece is a little beauty and bet she gets a thrill out of this portrait, as well as the paints she received.

Dawn said...

Wow Sandy, this is fantastic! and looking at the steps is amazing, I would have freaked out before ever getting the painting started. Just Excellent!!

Sandy said...

OH wow, filled with light this is. Simply gorgeous!

Sandy said...

Sandy, you are an inspiration! You are so generous in your sharing and I really enjoy reading about the processes you use.
This is a delightful painting of your niece and
I love the new format of your blog too..it looks great!

RHCarpenter said...

Wow Wow Wow!!! Gorgeous and filled with light.

Watercolorist said...

Enjoyed seeing the process of this lovely portrait. I have been wanting to paint portraits of my six and eight-year-old grand children but have never tried portraiture before. You have inspired me to give it a go.

Michelle Himes said...

Oh, she's beautiful! I love the delicate, high key touch on this little blonde.

Vicki Greene said...

The painting is beautifully and skillfully done. Thank you so much for sharing the steps and paitning info.

meera said...

Thank you for so generously sharing such detailed helpful information! I love the look of wonder and happiness you have captured along with the delicate beautiful features. Absolutely enchanting painting!

Deb Townsend said...

Fantastic Sandy, and how neat to see her come to life. Thanks for all you share so freely!

Joan Sandford-Cook said...

Awe inspiring. Such a lot of process detail is so helpful to us lesser mortals. They must have been thrilled with such a gift. Oh dear, I think I want to give up!

Jamie said...

Wow, what a great "tutorial" with steps along the way! Fabulous detail. I always get in too much of a hurry to take progress photos.

As always, thank you for the inspiration! Now, off to paint something!

Bonnie said...

Just catching up on your blog tonight. I can not tell you how excited I was to see your portrait of you niece. Absolutely amazing, Sandy. I love it. And I love the soft, delicate approach. I'm trying to print it off for yet another lesson in portraits. You make it look so easy. And I'm still struggling like crazy. Perhaps I'll try this approach with Zacky.
Look forward to next Tuesday and a beautiful day for class.

Sandy Maudlin said...

Thank you so much for commenting. I love to teach and appreciate it when people let me know that it helps. Enjoy art.