Portrait of Gracie and Stephen #1

How to paint a portrait of a couple in watercolor and ink

Karen painting Gracie and Stephen

Karen painting Gracie and Stephen

Painting a portrait of two people is fun and challenging. Gracie and Stephen are the ideal couple to sit for a portrait. They are young adults whose easy-going, joie de vivre personalities are exciting to capture in a painting.

It goes without saying that you really want to capture a reasonably accurate likeness of your subjects. I always begin the underlying structure in pencil; it’s the most critical part of the process. First, determine where your subjects fit on the page, then lightly sketch lines to show the angles of the shoulders, top of the head, jawlines, arms, noses, etc. Then sketch in the volume of the body, neck chest and arms. Make very light marks to indicate the location of the eyes nose and mouth.

The underdrawing should look rough – it is merely a framework for painting. If it looks remotely like a finished piece, you have over-drawn this step. I erase the sketch to where the marks are barely visible, and then I’m ready to paint.

Posing for a portrait should be a pleasant experience, so I make sure that my subjects are comfortable. Gracie and Stephen were surrounded by soft pillows and comforters to support their necks, backs, arms, legs, and feet. Low-key music by ‘Air’ played in the background. Once the pose was set, I took a photo with my phone to be used for helping them get back into position. 

Gracie and Stephen

Gracie and Stephen

I set a timer in 10 minute increments for stretch breaks; sometimes they took them, sometimes they went for 20 minutes before breaking and having some chips and soda. Actual posing time for this painting was about an hour and 10 minutes.

When I began adding the watercolor, I started with  a mid-value skin tone, working on both subjects. It’s really important to work the painting as a whole rather than finish one person, then the other. After getting some color on the paper, I began to add the ink. At that point, I was back and forth – color, ink, color, ink.

My portraits are light and airy, not formal, so it’s important to me to keep those qualities by not over-working the painting. I’d rather capture an essence of someone than go for a photographic likeness. Thanks to Gracie and Stephen for being such delightful subjects!


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