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Drawing & Painting Portraits in Watercolour


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Table of Contents

Introduction 6
Materials 8
Design 14
Composition 16
Proportion 20
Pose 24
Lighting 30
Backgrounds 34
Using line 38
Sketching 40
Drawing from life 42
Drawing from photographs 44
Drawing with pencil 48
Using charcoal 52
Drawing with charcoal 54
Using watercolour 58
Watercolour painting techniques 60
Other useful techniques 66
Colour and tone 68
Painting from life 72
Painting from photographs 74
Perfecting your portraits 82
Hair 84
Eyes and hands 86
Age 88
The portraits 90
Alexander 92
Mother and baby 102
Jilly 114
Afterword 126
Index 128

About the Author

David Thomas showed drawing ability from an early age, and was one reason for his decision to become an architect. Drawing and painting became lifelong hobbies, and an early retirement gave him the opportunity to develop them more seriously. In addition to his artwork, he designs and makes devices as diverse as an artist's folding easel and a walking frame. His portraits have generally been commissions, often of children. He runs occasional portrait workshops and gives portrait demonstrations to local art societies.


This is one of the most comprehensive guides to painting poeple there has been in a very long time. Although a reasonable degree of technical ability is assumed, David does not ignore the basics such as pose proportion and composition. He includes male and female figures,full of half-face poses, young and old sitters and groups as well as single subjects. It is hard to spot anything that has been omitted. As well as the introductory notes, there are plenty of demonstrations andf technical tips that are introduced progressively. Instructions that are longer than is sometimes the case in instructional books, explaining what is happening at every stage. The whole thing is so gentle it's so easy to forget you're learning. David's style is quite loosed, providing an impression rahter than warts and all detail, allowing for a good deal of interpretation while preserving facial structure and likeness. The book is thoroughly recommended.

* The Artist *

While there is 'a great tradition of outstanding watercolour painters', David Thomas notes a scarcity of watercolour paintings in portrait exhibitions, despite the medium's 'inherent ability to capture subtle tonal variations' (thus making it ideal for faces). His book seeks to address the dominance of opaque media in portraiture by encouraging the reader to paint portraits in watercolour.

David starts with general watercolour advice - materials (paint colours, brushes and papers) and techniques (washes, wet in wet, dropping in, lifting out, granulation etc). He also includes drawing materials - graphite pencils and charcoal, plus techniques - I was particularly interested to see a white charcoal pencil employed to give subtle, but very effective, highlights to a sitter's beard!
Topics such as design, composition, cropping, colour, tone, lighting and backgrounds are all covered, making this an extremely comprehensive book on drawing and painting in general too. I found the section on proportions of the face and body particularly clearly presented. Finally there are articles on eyes, hair and hands. Examples are drawn and painted from life as well as photographs. The step by step demonstrations are very comprehensive (35 - 54 steps each) and include the names of all the colours used, when and how to mix them and brush size and use. They are also an ideal opportunity to see the watercolour techniques in practice (lifting out, a background wash while the portrait is turned sideways etc).

I found the last portrait in the book to be the most accomplished and endearing, 'Waiting for the Telegram' (Katherine). This sublime painting definitely deserves to be on the cover and would be reason enough to take up the Portraits in Watercolour challenge!

David succeeds in 'selling' the medium to me as a choice for portraiture. Before seeing this book, I probably wouldn't have considered the combination before. Whether I could be permanently tempted away from oils and acrylics remains to be seen - the only way to know for sure is to give it a go....

* Andrea Hook *

This is quite the best book on portrait painting, in any medium, that I've seen for a very long time, perhaps ever. I'm drawn to a comparison with Capturing Personality in Pastel by Dennis Frost, which appeared in the late 1970's. The main similarity, it seems to me, is that this is more about getting the character of your subject than of preserving a detailed likeness, which is perhaps the prerogative of oils or acrylics. Watercolour is a more fluid medium and its washes, tints and hues are perhaps best suited to this more relaxed, looser approach. There is certainly great subtlety here.

As an instructional book, this is maybe not one for the complete beginner. There are very few simple exercises and David assumes a fair degree of familiarity with your materials and the techniques and properties associated with the medium. Although there are demonstrations, they are there more to show how the work was built up than to be followed literally, I feel. I would also question how useful it is to work on a subject you've never met, though you might find it worth practising with some of them just to see whether you can achieve the result aimed for.

However, as a book for someone who's had a bit of experience and wants to progress further, particularly in relation to capturing character, this is totally worthwhile. It's thorough and goes into a lot of detail, with plenty of examples and explanations that will keep you happy for a very long time. Even if you were to conclude that your work will never be as good as David's, it can't help but be a very great deal better than when you started.

* Artbookreview.net *

This book is methodically laid out, gently leading you up to portraiture through detailed explanations of tools, materials, choosing a picture and the basic principles needed for a good portrait; all accompanied with beautiful and detailed pictures.
The 'drawing' part of the book is small, if you are looking to become competent at drawing then this isn't the right book, it feels more like practicing size, shape, proportion and tone in preparation for painting than learning to draw however it's fundamental to practice, and become competent at the drawing stage, before attempting watercolour (I need to vastly improve before I can paint). It is suggested to use a 6B pencil for drawing but I found it too heavy/dark and will likely use others as well.
The painting section is the largest portion of the book; starting with basic and intermediate techniques, a compact and informative piece on the use of colour followed by info on painting from both life and photos and lastly details that require special attention i.e. hair, eyes.
Lastly we have 3 heavily detailed watercolour step by steps, with lots of accompanying pictures, to practice the info detailed in the book. I like that you are told specific sizes of brush and where and how to use them, this makes painting (for the beginner/novice) that little bit easier.
This book is very well written, concise and the pictures are both beautiful and a great visual aid, I found it much more engaging than previous watercolour books I have read and the exercises by far the most detailed. This isn't a book for someone wanting to just pick up and have a go but for people who are willing to put in the work to become competent watercolour artists.
I look forward to learning how to paint portraits once I have become more competent at drawing.

* Charlotte Blakely *

If I were to describe this book in one word, it would be fantastic. I love all of it. Portrait painting requires great skill and insight. At some point all artists have a dab at portraits, but it is not easy to master portraying character and quirks of a personality. This book shows you how to paint portraits using different mediums - watercolour, pencil and charcoal. It shows clearly how to build your sketches and how to capture character in your artwork. More than that it teaches proportion, backgrounds, pose and much more. There are five step-by-step portrait demonstrations. You'll also find useful information on design, composition and lighting. Special attention is paid to eyes, hands and hair. The front cover says it all really and this book should improve your technique immensely. The book is amply illustrated with David's admirable work. He shows many individual and group portraits. I am also fascinated by David's own easel design - highly innovative and useful. I am surprised the publisher did not make this a hardback book, it is an absolute classic. If I wanted to master portraiture, I would ask David to teach me. This book is a fine manual of portrait painting. Fabulous. Highly recommended, in fact I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's without doubt the best painting book I have seen for some time.

* Karen Platt- yarnsandfabrics.co.uk *

April 2016

In his new book Drawing & Painting Portraits in Watercolour, David Thomas takes the mystery out of the subject and shows that portraits don't have to be intimidating. Wityh chapters on the materials you need, composing your work, lighting and backgrounds. David establishes the basics in an easy-to-follow style. Sections on drawing and watercolour techniques drawing from life and photographs, move you forward so that you are ready to get along with the five set projects - two in charcoal and three in watercolour. David's appraoch is lively and accessible.

* The Leisure Painter *

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