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Art Painting People Portrait Watercolor

Maya Angelou Watercolor Portrait

Maya Angelou is one of my heroes and I was fortunate to see her in Berkeley a year after the publication of her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Painting her brought back so many memories…

Maya Angelou, from photo reference circa 1972, watercolor, 8×6′

I saw Maya Angelou at the Rainbow Sign, a former Berkeley mortuary on Grove Street, a year after the publication of her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” (Link to event announcement).

We sat around her on the funky carpet in the former chapel, and listened raptly as she read and spoke about her life’s journey so far. At that time she was the first ever African-American best-selling author and like me, was living in Berkeley.

Maya Angelou, reference photo circa 1972

I used the photo reference above from around that same time for my preparatory sketch below.

Preliminary sketch on Xerox paper

I painted her twice, using a limited three-color palette of DS Quinacridone Gold, WN Perylene Maroon, and DS Indanthrone Blue. Below is the first (failed) painting attempt.

First failed painting

In the painting (above, Yuck!) I made her skin too dark and too orange, plus when I added Rose of Ultramarine for her dress and Winsor Blue to a gold background, I made a green that clashed with the purple dress.

Color testing before painting and scratch sheet for testing strokes as I painted

For some reason this snippet of her talk 50 years ago has always stayed with me. She said:

My grandmother always told me,
“You don’t always get what you pay for,
but you always pay for what you get.”

Maya Angelou

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