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Layering process for watercolor portraits painting : Face painting

How to paint a layered watercolor portrait by Sandrine Pelissier on ARTiful, painting demos
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Layering process for watercolor portraits painting : Face painting

For my watercolor portraits I use a layering technique, applying colors separately. This process allows me to focus on edge quality and tone, while keeping the colors fresh and luminous.  I sometimes add other media , like watercolor crayons, pastel or gouache.

When I am done with the layering process, I usually correct the colors by addition (adding new colors, usually secondaries and Tertiary colors : purple, oranges, greens and browns) and by subtraction (scrubbing the paper with water and an old stiff brush).

Here are the steps I took:

Layering process for watercolor portraits painting : Face painting

drawing on watercolor paper


This is my drawing. I used Arches cold press watercolor paper 140 lb and worked from a picture.

watercolor portrait painting techniques

This is the first layer. I used only Yellow ocher (Da Vinci). I masked the face painting area because I will paint it at the end with pure colors

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Da Vinci Artists’ Permanent Watercolors, 292 Yellow Ochre, 15 ml

Da Vinci paints are exciting, intense, and rated among the best in the world for quality. The paints are permanent, with the highest tinting strength and pigment concentration available, and a creamy consistency for smooth, easy dispersion with water.

red layer of watercolor paint
red layer of watercolor paint

This is the second layer, I used a Pinkish warm red (Alizarin crimson, Da Vinci) for most of the parts and some more orange-red (Permanent red light) On places I wanted a more orange color.

blue layer of watercolor paint
blue layer of watercolor paint

On the third layers I used also two different blues, a warmer blue on most of the shades of the face (Ultramarine Rembrandt) and a colder blue on the areas where the light was cold on the face(Prussian blue, Da Vinci)

adjusting the colors
adjusting the colors

In the last stage, I adjust colors where I need to do it, I scrub and wash away some paint where I need more light on the face, I soften some edges, and then paint the face painting.

Comments (3)

  1. Susanne

    This is a beautiful portrait! Love your layering,
    and I really appreciate the way you have composed this painting. Wonderful point of view!

  2. Sophie

    Very impressive !
    How long does it take you ?
    Where did you learn that technique ?

    1. Thank you Sophie for reading my blog:-)
      Usually it takes me one or two weeks to finish a painting depending on how much time available I have. Painting the yellow layer for example will typically take me 2-3 hours on a 15 x 22 inches painting.
      I first saw layering in a book from watercolor artist Linda L Moyer (Light Up Your Watercolors, Layer by Layer), she is using a slightly different technique to achieve great light effects, mostly for landscapes , animals and still life. I am also washing off some paint at the end of my process which I believe she doesn’t do.

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