5 Practical Tips for Watercolor Portrait Painting Tutorials
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Select the right brushes
  2. Mix colors correctly
  3. Create a stable sketch
  4. Layer colors effectively
  5. Add details with precision

If you've ever found yourself lost in the soothing strokes of a watercolor portrait painting tutorial, you know the magic it can weave. The subtle blend of hues, the gentle touch of the brush, and the stunning end result can be incredibly satisfying. But, mastering these watercolor portraits can be a bit tricky. Worry not! Here are five practical tips to guide you through your watercolor journey. Let's start with the first stepping stone—selecting the right brushes.

Select the right brushes

The first thing you need in your watercolor portrait painting tutorials is a good set of brushes. Brushes are your magic wands that can make or break your artwork. Choosing the right ones can significantly improve your watercolor portrait painting experience.

Natural vs Synthetic Brushes

When it comes to brushes, you have two main choices—natural and synthetic. Natural brushes, made from animal hair, are soft and highly absorbent, making them perfect for watercolor painting. On the other hand, synthetic brushes, made from man-made materials, are stiffer and more durable. They are excellent for detailed work and precision painting. The choice is yours, but remember, quality matters more than quantity.

Choosing the Right Size

Brush size is another important factor. While it might be tempting to use a big brush for large areas and a small one for details, it's not always the best approach. Experiment with different sizes and find what works best for you. For starters, it's good to have a range of sizes—from 0 to 12—to tackle various aspects of a portrait.

Brush Shape Matters

Did you know brushes come in different shapes too? Round, flat, filbert, fan—the list goes on. Each shape serves a unique purpose in watercolor portrait painting tutorials. For instance, round brushes are great all-rounders, while flat brushes are ideal for washes and large strokes. Filbert brushes, with their rounded edges, are perfect for soft blending and smoothing. So, don't limit yourself to just one shape. Experiment and see what brings out the best in your artwork.

As you can see, choosing the right brushes is a vital first step in your watercolor portrait painting journey. But don’t worry, it gets easier and more fun from here. So, ready to mix some colors?

Mix colors correctly

Once you've got your brushes sorted, it's time to dive into the vibrant world of colors. Mixing colors correctly is a skill you'll continually refine in your watercolor portrait painting tutorials. It's an art in itself, but with a few tips, you can master it in no time.

Understanding the Color Wheel

Remember the color wheel from your school days? It's about to become your best friend. The color wheel is the key to understanding color relationships and creating harmony in your painting. It helps you understand which colors complement each other and which ones contrast. So, keep a color wheel handy—you'll thank yourself later.

Creating Skin Tones

When it comes to watercolor portrait painting, creating realistic skin tones can be a challenge. But here's a secret—skin tones aren't just peach or brown. They're a mix of various colors, including red, yellow, blue, and even green. So, don't shy away from experimenting. Start with a base color—like yellow ochre or burnt sienna—and add small amounts of other colors until you get the desired shade. Remember, less is more when it comes to mixing colors.

Avoiding Mud

Ever mixed your colors only to end up with a muddy mess? It happens to the best of us. The key to avoiding mud is understanding color temperature. Warm colors (reds, oranges, yellows) mix well with other warm colors, while cool colors (blues, greens, purples) work well together. Mixing warm and cool colors can sometimes result in muddy colors, so tread carefully.

With these tips, the task of mixing colors correctly should be less daunting. But remember, practice makes perfect. So, get your palette out and start experimenting! Next, we'll talk about creating a stable sketch—an essential step in watercolor portrait painting tutorials.

Create a stable sketch

Now that you've mastered the art of mixing colors correctly, the next step in your watercolor portrait painting tutorials journey involves creating a stable sketch. It's like building a house: the sketch is the foundation, and your colors and details are the bricks and mortar. Let's get started!

Choosing the Right Paper

Before you even pick up your pencil, you need to ensure you're using the right kind of paper. Watercolor paper is your best bet—it's thick enough to hold the water and color without warping. Aim for a paper with a weight of at least 140 pounds. This will give you the stability you need to create your sketch and add your colors.

Drawing the Outline

Next, you'll need to draw your portrait's outline. This doesn't need to be highly detailed—think of it more as a roadmap. It's there to guide you and ensure you get the proportions and placement right. Use light pencil strokes so you can easily erase or cover them later with your watercolors.

Adding Basic Shading

Shading might seem like it belongs later in the process, but adding some basic shading during the sketching stage can really help you understand your light source and how it affects your portrait. This will guide you when you start adding color and more detailed shading later on.

Creating a stable sketch is a key step in watercolor portrait painting tutorials. It might seem intimidating at first, but with practice, it will become second nature. Now, let's move on to layering colors effectively, the next important step in mastering watercolor portrait painting.

Layer colors effectively

Having a stable sketch is like having a sturdy foundation, and now we're ready to build upon it. Layering colors effectively is the next stepping stone in our watercolor portrait painting tutorials. This is where your portrait starts to come alive with depth and vibrancy. So, let's dive in!

Understanding Watercolor Transparency

Watercolors have a unique transparency that can be both a blessing and a challenge. To layer colors effectively, you need to understand how to use this to your advantage. Start with lighter colors and gradually add darker ones. This method, often called 'glazing', allows you to build up depth without losing the luminosity of your watercolors.

Patience is Key

When layering colors, patience is your best friend. Always allow each layer to dry completely before adding the next. If you don't, you run the risk of your colors bleeding into each other, which can result in a muddy mess. So, take a break, sip a cup of tea, let the layer dry, and then return to your artwork with fresh eyes.

Maintaining Color Harmony

While layering colors, it's important to maintain color harmony. This means that your colors should work well together and not clash. A simple tip here is to use a limited color palette. This can help you achieve a more cohesive look in your watercolor portrait.

Mastering the art of layering colors effectively is a crucial part of watercolor portrait painting tutorials. It's like learning to play a musical instrument, it takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, the results can be incredibly rewarding. Now that we've layered our colors, we’re prepared to add the final touches: the details.

Add details with precision

Adding details to your watercolor portrait is like putting the icing on a cake. It can bring your painting to life, creating a sense of realism and personality. But how do you add details with precision? Let's explore this final step in our watercolor portrait painting tutorial.

Use a Fine Brush

The first thing you'll need is a fine brush. This will allow you to paint smaller details like eyes, hair strands, and skin texture with precision. Remember, every stroke counts when you're adding detail, so make sure your brush strokes are deliberate and calculated.

Keep Your Colors Fresh

When adding details, ensure your colors are fresh. Avoid using muddy colors, as these can dull your portrait. Instead, aim for bright, clear colors that make your details pop. It's these small pops of color that can take your portrait from good to great.

Don't Overdo It

Finally, while details are important, remember not to overdo it. Adding too many details can make your portrait look overcrowded and chaotic. Aim for a balance between detailed and more loosely painted areas. This will give your portrait depth and keep the viewer's eye moving around the painting.

Adding details with precision is the final touch in a successful watercolor portrait painting tutorial. It's the culmination of all your hard work and can truly make your portrait come alive. So take your time, enjoy the process, and watch as your watercolor portrait transforms before your eyes.

If you're eager to improve your watercolor portrait painting skills, don't miss the workshop 'A Drawing for a Painting' by David Shepherd. In this workshop, you'll learn valuable techniques and insights that will help you create stunning watercolor portraits. Make sure to explore this workshop and continue your artistic journey with Daisie!