In the process of overcoming six hours of jetlag, I woke at an ungodly hour this morning. Although I managed to convince my body to continue resting for an additional hour, my mind would not cooperate. Soon it was in full analytic mode, reviewing the coursework from the portraiture workshop I had been attending, and attempting to reconcile it with my ongoing painting efforts.
Suddenly the concepts and alternative variations began to click into place, and I gave up my immediate attempt at jetlag recovery as a hopeless cause. It was time instead for note making and some in-depth analysis and strategizing. So here goes…
Realization 1: the charcoal we used at the workshop handles more like oil paint than like watercolor, as, to a great extent, we built our work from darks into lights, using erasers to cut away the medium to reclaim the underlying lighter values. Although I suppose I could do all my portraits in oil, which can be handled in a similar manner, I want to be true to myself and figure out how to apply the lessons to watercolor.
Realization 2: in order to apply the information I had gathered during the course to the watercolor medium, I would have to think outside the charcoal box and adjust the approach to suit a medium that generally builds from light to dark.
Step 1: Pre-sketch lightly to establish measurements and ascertain appropriate proportions.
Step 2: Differentiate appropriate shadow and lighted areas. Locate precisely, and reserve with frisket, all highlighted points. Reserving highlights will require identifying and locating features early that otherwise might not be approached until considerably later in the process. (This would partially explain my struggle with feeling a need to position them earlier than workshop participants were advised to start incorporating “details.”)
Step 3: Wash in a thin base glaze (based on the temperature of the light source, usually warm) to establish the lightest tone slightly darker than the highlight (which will retain the white tone of the underlying paper).
Step 4: Block in the entire shadowed (and other dark) areas as neutral half-tones that can be further glazed to deepen the shadowed values as needed. (This is different from the charcoal/oil approach, in which the shadows are blocked in with a much lower value.) Warm half-tones can also extend into transition areas between light and shadowed planes, but keeping even the lightest shadows darker (and in general, except for reflected light, cooler) than the darkest lights.
Step 5: Continue to build up appropriate values within the lights, using varying hues and temperatures to turn the form and to provide interest and detail.
Step 6: Continue to build up appropriate values within the darks, again varying hues and temperatures to turn the form and to indicate reflected light, while limiting detail within the shadow areas.
Step 7: If it hasn’t already been sufficiently incorporated as negative painting or to provide soft transitions from the subject to the background, pay any additional needed attention to the subject’s environment.
Step 8: Remove frisket, adjust edges as necessary, and incorporate any final details.
Of course, these strategic steps are purely theoretical at this point. I haven’t had time yet to test them out for myself. But at least they should provide a guideline to base my experimental efforts on.