Total Art Soul - for artists

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costa rica girl watercolor portrait

Reference photo is my friend Lorna.  She is originally from Costa Rica and we met during both of our first years in the U.S., at an ESL class. Unfortunately, the painting doesn’t look like her, even after numerous reworkings (if you look close, you can see areas of diluted gesso here and there). I guess I’ll have to paint another one some time and aim for more resemblance!

Speaking of years in the U.S., yesterday was my 7-year move-i-versary (thanks Genevieve for another made-up word I can add to my vocabulary ;) ) It feels so strange.


Originally posted on November 1, 2010 at:


woman leaning on her hand watercolor painting

Watercolor on Arches CP 140lb, 9×12. Painted from a picture of my friend’s mom. I feel like I should have left it be around 25 minutes before I actually stopped – but I always want more darks, more depth, more definition. With all that, I lose some of the initial freshness and mood. I guess it’s a very fine balance I need to learn to keep!

On a different note, this blog’s views reached 10,000 yesterday and I’m happy as a true dork :) Thank you to everyone who came and looked at what I am doing here, and especially to those of you who keep coming back for more. You keep me going!

Originally posted on September 27, 2010 at:

This is pretty much a continuation of the previous post. I worked on two paintings at the same time, and it was a very interesting learning experience. Here are the progress pictures of the 9×12 almost three-quarter figure portrait of a lady in Icelandic national costume.

As usual, I started with sketches. This one was only one sketch that I altered many times trying to decide on the background (the reference photo, taken in a studio, has a very boring tan-beige-taupe-bleh background). On a totally irrational impulse, I made the background red. Maybe as a response to the boredom of the background in the photo?

Mark's Icelandic Mom - red

Mark's Icelandic Mom - gold, direct light

Mark's Icelandic Mom - gold diffused light

Well, this was the “fire” part of The Land of Fire and Ice, and most people I consulted (including those of you who so kindly left a comment to my post about it) felt that the figure disappeared in the intense red and/or gold background. So I tried the “ice” side of it, together with a mossy-medowy green:

watercolor portrait

watercolor potrait

watercolor portrait

And we finally settled on the background above, a hint at the glaciers and the grasses. On to the drawing:

(and no, I don’t like masking.. or doing details in general. I like splashing paint.)

And the completed painting:

watercolor portrait

In addition to learning a couple more things about working small in watercolor (hands were hard!) and spending hours figuring stuff out with an anatomy book (granted, I love doing that), I expanded my knowledge about Iceland beyond Bjork and volcanoes :) a little.

Question: how do you change a large area in a watercolor painting (like the background in those sketches) without painful scrubbing out and washing off?

Answer: Cover it with acrylic gesso and paint on top!(that’s what I did) Or use gouache. Or acrylics. Or pastels :)




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