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How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.


2H pencil
Watercolor paper
Watercolor paints: Winsor Red, Prussian Blue, Winsor Yellow, Burnt Umber
(View info on brushes)

In this free watercolor lesson, you will learn the essential steps of defining a painting. You will also learn how to paint a watercolor portrait of a man.

Project Background

Because of the portrait I did for Linda, I also got to know a lot about her husband, Don, and how they met. After I completed her portrait, I agreed to do a portrait of him as well. Don had been a college professor, but now works for a computer science research corporation.

Knowing that Don liked to read, I chose his home library for the setting. I did a few preliminary drawings and then decided on the final concept and design for the portrait. I took a number of photos for references. Back in the studio, I started the painting process by drawing a likeness of the subject on high-quality watercolor paper.


A drawing is usually necessary when a strong likeness is required. I used a 2H pencil to outline the important elements. Remember, leave the pencil marks when the work is done as part of the total artwork.

I am going to use a different method to paint this portrait. In the Chinese painting process, there is a method called “bone comes before meat.”

How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Start from the "Bones"

In this portrait, I used the three primary colors plus burnt umber. I applied a thin wash to the face and head--using dark and rough strokes--which sets down the value and weight as the base for the rest of the painting process. This process is as much internal as external, and when I feel the push from inside, I don’t try to hold it, but express it, going with flow of my feelings.



How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Apply the "Meat"

After the previous color was stabilized and absorbed, I applied wet colors over the dry strokes. The goal was to quickly shape my impression of the subject into the painting, starting from strong and rough painting and then adding richness.

I believe that a painting (or any kind of art) is a statement from the artist. It comes straight from the heart. It is emotional. Paint is just the medium that the artist uses to communicate with the viewer.


How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Balance of the Warm and Cold

While I am giving more definition to the subject, I can also be working on the balance of the warm (red and yellow) and cool (blue) colors. I added pure Winsor Red mixed with water to the chair, and at the same time, put pure Prussian Blue onto the shirt. Then, I added Winsor Yellow directly to the side of the chair, the pants, and books.



How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.

Finish the Balance and Strengthen Values

At this stage, there is no need to narrow down my attention to a small area. I focused on the overall balance and color values. The wall or anything else in this painting is as important as the eyes or the nose. I laid another wash onto the back of the chair, added the details to the globe, and gave a rough definition to the hair. I kept working on the big picture until I was totally satisfied with the overall balance.

There is an emotional balance inside of us. Creativity is the process of expressing the artist's emotional perception. This emotion should show through every stroke, through every wash and in every corner of the painting.

How to paint a man in watercolor step by step.


Now is the time to add the final details, to bring the portrait to life.

Many people may not be able to imagine how a portrait could turn out so beautifully when it started so rough (and even "ugly"). Every step in the process moves the painting closer to the artist's initial emotional impression of the subject. No matter what approach or method you choose to use, the important thing is that you are expressing your own emotional impression. This impression is always complex, often more than words can describe, but shines through your art. Keep working on your inner discovery at the same time that you are learning new techniques.