The Case of the Annoying Portrait

This is a story of a portrait that just wouldn’t behave.

As you know, back in June I went on holiday. Our family travelled around the western part of Victoria and I actually had some moments to draw just for the fun of it. Because we were really tightly packed in our family sedan, I only had room to bring along my sketching and watercolour equipment (my acrylics just take up too much space).

I’m not very confident with my watercolours and am still in the process of learning all their techniques and quirks, so it doesn’t hurt to explore them from time to time.

I first played with them using one of the photos I had taken while we were in the Grampians – a foggy forest – and I was really happy with how it turned out.

An attempt at a foggy forest

This gave me confidence to try some more.

My current obsession, then and still now, is BBC’s Sherlock television series and one of the ways to make drawing extra fun is to tie it into my obsession. Also, as a tradition, I usually test out a new medium with the pedantic and pinicky, but familiar portraiture – it really tests me and how I can use a medium. I hadn’t done this with my watercolours as yet, despite having my equipment for a couple of years, so I thought, hey, let’s give it a try.

So, being on holiday, and not giving two hoots about whether I should do a painting ‘the correct way’, I didn’t do any pencil sketch or preparatory drawings, I just got out my watercolours and painted.

I managed this before the need for sleep interrupted me.

Sherlock wip 1

It this point I was really happy. The effects I managed were working well, the colour balance was good and everything seemed to be going okay. There was a slight issue with proportion, but nothing I didn’t think I could work out.

Unfortunately those slight issues proved to be the death of this painting.

After much fiddling and ultimately overworking of the watercolour, this is what I ended up with a couple of days later.

Sherlock watercolour

As any human being on this planet can see, there are some major issues with his eyes, his jaw and I’ve badly overworked his hair. Technically speaking this painting is not complete, but it is abandoned, because unlike acrylics, which I can fix to my heart’s content by simply painting over any errors and redrawing, I can’t do that in watercolour. What you paint is what you end up with.

I am still happy with my application of the watercolour. I managed to develop some good skin tone and manipulate the colour as I wanted to, so all is not a lost cause. The issue is a basic structural issue that could befall any medium and is probably a good sign that I need more practise at looking at a subject – I’m also willing to blame the lack of an easel which skewed my view of the painting.

I was that annoyed with this result that I posted it to Facebook, photographed from an angle to hide most of its faults.

Sherlock at an angle

There was quite an interesting discussion about this painting on Facebook.

So I gave up on my watercolours for a bit (I’ll explore them some more at some point), but the fact I couldn’t do a decent portrait of Sherlock bugged me, so I turned back to my native medium and grabbed my graphite pencils and went at it again. Aren’t holidays wonderful when you can just do what you feel like at the time – with no guilt for all the stuff you should be doing? 😀

Much to my disappointment, I think the watercolour painting influenced the graphite attempt. I over-compensated for the extra long face I’d created in the first painting and made it too short in the drawing. The result was a good looking man, but not Sherlock!

Sherlock graphite

I kinda abandoned this one, too. I was very frustrated with myself. Portraiture is something I have been doing for years and I felt I could do better than this. So I threw a little hissy fit, and, determined to not let this beat me, I turned to caricature, a skill I don’t exercise very often, nor am particularly good at, but has a much higher success rate due to its forgiveability.

This was my final attack on this subject.

Sherlock caricature

So in the end I managed a drawing that could be considered finished. However, I was still stumped by things that I shouldn’t have been, particularly where the pencil version was concerned. These three paintings/drawings were all created from the same photo I found online and were merely exercises. The fact they came out so differently points out the effects of medium, mood and intent in a piece of work (and the desperate need for an easel when doing portraiture!)

Despite the wrangling above, I still consider portraiture to be one of my skills and I definitely will be furthering my experiments in watercolour. The is always more to explore, and perhaps I can post a successful watercolour portrait here some time in the future.

Best wishes,