Portraits – ‘en plein air’ – some learnings

I woke up this morning thinking about the figures I did on Sunday.  I realised that I had not applied any of the lessons I had read over and over in Charles Reid’s watercolour books.  He offers a set of steps for painting a face and a figure.  And in the rush of it all I forgot them all.  But that is the beauty of learning and time.  For now we get to have another go at it.  And we have the capacity to reflect on the last one.  

And there is nothing like a good nights sleep for seeing the learnings.  Although I must say we have had our first rains and the Clicking Stream Frogs (Strongylopus Greyii) have gathered at our pool and are chorussing as I write.  They have such a sweet subdued clicking sound.  But last night there was a strident little fellow who kept intruding into my dreams.

But I digress…

Here is a painting I did of my daughter Sinead last year, while she was sitting doing her homework:


It is almost completely ‘alla prima’.  I was sitting across the table from her.  So how do I account for the difference between this and the pictures in my last post?  This is what I think:

  • I know her well and we were both relaxed about the ‘sitting’.  On Sunday I took my stuff out and started painting so felt about uncomfortable about what the sitters might think (for the first one anyway).
  • I had contracted with her to sit.  I felt relaxed about our agreement.
  • She had agreed to try to sit still.  My subjects on Sunday all moved around – a lot.  Which is OK.  I want to get better at contour drawing at speed and interpretting changed positions back to what I had drawn.  Claudia the artmodel tells a story about a woman who started drawing her on a train after a long day of modelling for artists.  She graciously held her pose up to the point where she jumped off the train at her station – an interesting vignette.  But most of us move around a lot – even when we try to sit still.
  • I had swotted up on the process I would use.  On Sunday I threw all of my learning out the window.  Well not all.  I tried to mix the colours on the page, following Charles Reid’s approach.  I remember my first ever teacher, Nicholas Galloway saying  “that isn’t how I taught you to do a wash…”  And maybe that is what Charles would have said about my first two faces.  
  • I was OK with failure.  I was relaxed about what I would produce.  Well, on Sunday I was too.
  • I had a little more time.  Even for my last one on Sunday Neil leapt up towards the end because the sun had moved and he was getting frazzled.  

I can’t wait to have another go at this.

7 thoughts on “Portraits – ‘en plein air’ – some learnings

  1. I like the pictures from the previous post – very free and lively. This one is nice but less interesting to me.

    • Hey Carol – good to see you here and thanks for this. I am finding and I think you are also finding in your painting, risks are risks because we can get stung – but they bring great rewards – and so we grow. Cheers hey

  2. Hi Stephen! Which book of Charles Reid are you referring to ?? I just found his “Watercolor Secrets” which I am studying slowly and trying to apply. I find it very helpful.

    • Hi Isabelle
      I have a few of his books but not the one you mention.
      I read “the natural way to paint” over and over, in which he covers watercolour techniques for figures and portraits really thoroughly.
      In ‘painting flowers in watercolour’ he shows how he gets wonderful vibrant colours in flowers and still-lifes.
      He published ‘watercolour solutions’ last year which is also full of great technique.
      I find his step-by-step demos instructive.
      I battle with learning to paint by reading but it is worth the work – in fact I wrote a note in my other blog about learning to paint from books on which I would be interested to hear your comments.
      Oh yes – he also has a website with some demos which I found worth visiting.
      Cheers hey –

  3. Hi Stephen
    I often find that I can see my painting better on the second day – or even a year away – where I no longer have the model in front of me and I can’t get picky about the details.
    This is a lovely sketch.

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