Now that I’m painting more often, I’m able to think about what subjects I really want to paint. And it occurs to me that I enjoy doing portraits. With watercolor, it is a real challenge to get the colors to blend and settle the way you want it. But I’m slowly learning that the medium itself is unpredictable and the best you can do sometimes is just go with the flow – learn to love the spontaneity, the way the hues just scatter into different directions and bleed into each other.

At the beginning of this portrait, I was trying so hard to get the shading right. I ended up with uneven shades with the neck being too dark, the arm being too yellow. The proportions of the arms and hands were also off, making the model look anorexic and sickly. (My reference photo is from the Mango website, where I was browsing clothes I could not afford at the moment. After continuously scrolling, I decided to channel my frustration into art. I picked a photo and just started sketching).

There are a lot of things I would like to revise in this artwork. But if there is one thing I am quite happy with, it’s her face. After spending so much time trying to control the colors on the neck and arms, I relaxed a bit when I came to the face. I used the wet-on-wet technique, dropping reds on the cheeks and darker shades of brown to add shadow and depth. I tried not to get caught up in the details and focused instead on bringing out the spirit of what drew me to the photo in the first place. Turned out better than I expected.

There was a time when I was afraid of taking portraits during my travels simply because I did not know how to approach people. I also didn’t know how to properly frame the shot or position the person in front of my camera. I was afraid they would get offended or impatient with me. But when I started just doing it and practicing the art of capturing faces, I found that it was a good way to try and connect with strangers. I learned more about their culture, their rituals and perspectives, and how they felt about certain issues. In turn, I got nicer photographs because the people who stood in front of my camera felt more at ease.

I know drawing and painting live will be much more difficult than using a reference photo. But hopefully, with enough practice, I can progress to doing on-the-spot watercolor portraits. The only thing to worry about is, where can I get a willing subject?

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