watercolor portrait painting of a girl wearing cat ears

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Experimental Portrait Painted in Watercolor

I’ve been playing with long and skinny Watercolor portrait warm-ups in the studio. Have you ever challenged your watercolor portrait painting with oddly shaped papers?

I’m using these long, narrow portraits as a warm up and a respite from a full sheet architectural urban scene that measures 31 x 25 inches. That’s huge for me. In between work on the larger painting, these little guys are my comfort food.

an art studio table nestled into a corner of a room with art supplies everywhere
Art Table in my Studio

Painting Watercolor Portraits with a Loose Hand

I tore watercolor paper down to fit a pile of frames, and that left me with a stack of hot press watercolor paper in an odd format. I got the wild-hair-idea to paint a series of loose, no-fuss, off-center watercolor portraits on each sheet with minimal “noodling”.

It was a fun project. And maybe another series like this for still life would be fun. Perhaps even a landscape series too? What do you think?

Experimental watercolor portrait paintings lined up in the studio

Other Experiments in the Art Studio

Today, I’ll be experimenting with surface treatments (clear gesso under the watercolor).

I’ve painted washy watercolors on white gesso over paper before, but never on clear gesso, so I’m very interested to see how it feels and looks.  

I’m throwing caution to the wind, and jumping in with my shoes on.

Best case scenario: textures and pigments and brush marks will be visible and interesting.

Worst case: it’ll be a mess and I’ll start over. 🙂

What new experiments have you tested in your studio this season?

Thanks for your visit, and I’ll see you in the next post!


a portrait painting in watercolor, in a long, narrow format of a young girl wearing cat ears
Let’s Make a Plan 11 x 4 watercolor on paper (Available unframed in my Etsy Shop here)

Art Quote

You have made tremendous strides in art. Your drawing is strong, your colors are true. You have rid yourself of that limp Flandrinian-Lamothian line work of that gray, leaden color. There is no need to keep tormenting yourself, my dear Edgar; you have set an excellent course. Set your mind at rest, and through calm but steady and unabated work persevere along this path you have chosen. It is yours and nobody else’s. Work in peace, I tell you, stay on track, and rest assured that you will succeed in achieving great things. You have a bright future ahead of you; don’t lose heart, don’t worry yourself so. 

~Written to Edgar Degas – from his father Auguste De Gas in the summer of 1858
Visit Six Tips to Paint More Often to watch a free video mini-course to help get you back to your brushes….

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4 thoughts on “Painting Portraits in Watercolor – Let’s Make a Plan”

  1. I am so taken by this series. They are so expressive and beautiful! I love the effect of the long page. I do ink and watercolor sketches of people and have been semi proud of my use of color on the skin – without ink, though, there is so much more you must say with the paint and boy do you say it! I am positively mesmerized by your use of cool and warm colors and the eyes and hands and wry expressions. I am inspired! I have picked up some old ink sketches of people to color and one of these days with your picture at my side and some wry photo I am going to try to do a humble version of what you have done. Thank you – my life is enriched just seeing these pictures!

  2. I am enjoying this body of work. The backgrounds, large area of a bright color, could be accomplished by rolling out ink. They are very dramatic as “flats”. Experimenting with a blend roll would be interesting.

  3. Lovely quirky painting! looking forward to seeing/hearing about your clear gesso base coat. I enjoy painting watercolour on white gesso on paper. deliberately rough. One gets wonderful random textural effects. Michael

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