Portrait Basics in Watercolor

Mixing skin tones, painting soft shadows and tips on facial features.

Portraits - Step by Step

By concentrating on one step at a time, YOU can paint a portrait. And mixing colors for believable skin tones only takes practice, not special colors.

In this lesson, you'll see easy to follow and down to earth techniques for painting basic portraits, while watching the demonstration of this little boy.

Here's a preview of some tips for success:

  • Start with a good photo - one light source, preferably natural light
  • Pick the best colors to mix your skin tones by picking the best red, yellow and blue
  • Layer your shadows on damp paper for shadows with soft edges
  • Precise tracing of features using graphite paper
  • Basic hair - paint what you see and merge the light and dark areas

You'll have a thirty minute video demonstration, showing every step. Downloads include 5 pages of written instructions filled with helpful tips, a reference photo and even a doughnut exercise for fun skin tone practice.

One student was amazed. 'I didn't know I could paint people!' she told me, after she did a very nice portrait step by step. 'My very first portrait, and it looks good.'

This is my great niece, Sydney. Her portrait will be treasured for generations. Your portraits could be, too!

Notice I chose simple clothing - if the clothing competes with your person, it needs to go. Attempting to paint stripes, plaid, etc. is usually time consuming and counter productive, as it pulls your viewer's attention away from your subject.

While I encourage you to use your 'normal' colors for your portraits, I definitely do recommend buying Perylene Green. The cowboy below was painted using mostly Cadmium Red (his skin tone is kind of orangey) and Perylene Green. (The original reference photo, used by permission, from photographer Diana Robinson.)

Start your portrait painting career today!

Your Instructor

Deb Watson
Deb Watson

I'm a self taught artist and I love teaching!

My story is simple.

I showed a lot of interest and talent as a child, but my parents discouraged art as a waste of time. I spent my adult life as a nurse and raised a family - pretty busy. While I was home with the birth of my daughter, I bought a cheap set of watercolors and fell in love with the bloom of color. I told my husband, 'I'm going to keep painting with these until I get really good.'

Back then, not many painted realistic watercolors, so I practiced and tried things until I worked out my own style. It took a lot of trial and error,

. When I entered my first art show, I won two awards and was told I'd have to enter the professional category and not beginner. That frightened me soo much, I didn't enter again for years.

When my work began selling, I entered more shows with more great success. I worked very hard and became a full time professional artist and teacher.

Although my work has been recognized and featured in major exhibitions, books and magazines, I'm very down to earth, and just love painting.

No one has 'all the time in the world'. Paint now. You're never too old, it's never too late. Any bit of time you can practice will improve your skills.

And yes, this cowboy is a watercolor painting. (Reference photo used with permission by Diana Robinson)

Have fun and learn from a master - sign up today!

Course Curriculum

  First Section
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