“Wow! It must’ve taken you a really long time to make!  How long did it take you?”  said a recent client about a finished watercolor home portrait.  And just about every person who’s seen my work has asked the same question.  And the really wonky thing is that I NEVER know the answer.  

Watercolor is a strange medium.  People call it unforgiving, and in a way it is.  In arylic or oil painting you can paint in lights and whites on thop of darker colors , but in watercolor you have to preserve the white of the paper.  So you really have to plan where your darks and lights in a painting are before you begin.  That way you can lay the colors on rich and deep and they look fresh and lovely.  You can bring back whites and lights with certain tricks, but the less you have to do this the better a painting looks. 

 This planning part of a watercolor portrait involves a lot of thinking and squinting at the reference photos and sketching pictures of where the values are.  This process is time-consuming but as I always tell my watercolor students, it’s really one of the most important parts of watercolor painting.  So I alternate think and sketch, sketch and think.  Sometimes for a couple of days.

Then the measuring and drawing for accuracy comes in, and this I do with a pencil and a lot of erasing and re-drawing.  House portraits are easier to draw that pet portraits, and pet portraits are a lot easier to draw than people portraits.  For me anyway.  This part takes a few hours

Watercolor Home Portrait Work in Progress
Watercolor Home Portrait Work in Progress

When all this is done, I begin painting, using my sketches as a guide.  But many times I make mistakes.  Some I can fix and some I can’t.  In the above home portrait photo you can see it took three tries to really get this painting the way I wanted it to look.  

So, how long does all this take? The entire process if I did it all at once would probably be about 16 hours. But I take breaks.   I can usually get a  watercolor home or pet or person painting done in as little as 2 weeks, but it’s nice to have a month’s notice, because some just take longer than others.  

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