Art Drawing Faces Painting People Portrait Watercolor

In the Light, In the Dark

It was fun trying to draw and paint these two ladies, one in dark and one in light, with watercolor. See below for sketches and reference photos…

Lady in the Light, watercolor, 8×6″

After watching a Sktchy watercolor demo by Alison Pinto, I tried my hand at drawing (see below) and painting this sweet face. I want to assemble a good palette for watercolor portraits, so tried Alison’s interesting palette (see bottom of post for pigments and reference photos). So far I know I do not like Burnt Sienna in portraits.

Sketch for Lady in Light watercolor portrait
Sketch for Lady in Light
Lady in Dark, watercolor, 8x6.5"
Lady in the Dark, watercolor, 8×6.5″

I was a little happy with this painting until I realized I’d given her googly eyes and started trying to “fix” the painting, which with watercolor translates to “wreck” the painting. Oh well. This is a scan I made before I started “fixing.”

Lady in Dark,sketch
Lady in Dark, sketch

Pigments: : Winsor Lemon, Indian yellow, Permanent Rose, Holbein Opera, Burnt Sienna, Winsor Violet and Winsor Green Blue Shad

8 replies on “In the Light, In the Dark”

Your watercolor portraits are beautiful! I love the dark atmosphere and glow of light behind Lady in the Dark. I don’t see the googly eyes, Jana!

I have been meaning to ask you what made you abandon oils? I have not painted in oils in a couple of years. I started taking watercolor classes and have not gone back to oil since then. I do love the look of oil paint but I found it almost harder than watercolor.


Thanks Julie. After all those years of watercolor, for me learning oils definitely felt harder. Everything was reversed—dark to light instead of light too dark; use lots of white instead of no white; no cropping after painting because canvas or panels aren’t paper; the drawing gets hidden almost immediately so you’re constantly having to correct the drawing as the thick paint makes edges and shapes expand.

Those are some of the problems but the 3 biggest reasons were:

1) I could no longer tolerate the smell of OMS and my body’s reaction to it. Working solvent free meant I couldn’t do a thin lean layer to start, and then even without the chemicals/OMS, the smell of the oil paint as it dried started bothering me. I have some lung damage and had to get honest with myself about adding unnecessary chemical exposure.

2) oil paint brought out my perfectionist tendencies which meant I had no ending point the way Water media makes you stop to dry and also doesn’t slow reworking for very long. With oils I would keep painting forever, trying to get it perfect and losing any freshness and driving myself crazy.

3) the clean up—so much more work with oils. With watercolor I can walk away and just leave it but with oils the brushes and palette need good cleaning every time.

Now with watercolor I can spend a few hours or a few days and call it done instead of working for months on the same painting.

And finally over my decade of trying with oils I never hung any of them in my house, just a few in the studio. I really like the look of water media better.

Have you experimented with gouache? It combines the best of oil and watercolor. I really love it.

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It does work well color wise, but I don’t like the way it lifts if I try to glaze over it and also that it’s a little sedimentary. I think for darker skin that I’m not going to try to put another wash on top of it, it would be ok. But I’m still clumsy with my technique so maybe not using enough or too much water still.


You are just so gifted my friend. I especially love the way you treated the blue scarf. And I don’t see googly eyes – I think they’re perfect

Thank you, Nicole Monique, Watercolor Artist, Children’s Book Illustrator, Natural Science Illustrator



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