Although I have been painting most of my life, I would say that portrait painting is not one of my strengths. I love to paint landscapes, florals, even animals, more so than people. It is in my opinion, that most people do not think they look the way that other people see them, especially when portrayed in a painting. Which makes them very difficult to please when commissioning a portrait. I’m sure I would be the same. With that said, parents are even more particular about their children in a portrait than even themselves. I have decided commission portrait painters have the most difficult job in an artist’s business. To completely satisfy a portrait client is to be at one’s best in your field.
Suzanna Winton, of Thomasville, GA, is considered one of the best watercolor portrait artists, for that very reason. She has been studying and painting faces since 1994, when she began her studies at the Florida Art Center. Her paintings capture the personality and history of each carefully chosen subject. Over the years, Suzanna has built her art career around this complicated and ever changing subject matter and conducts workshops to help others understand and learn her process.
Suzanna goes about painting a portrait in a, somewhat, scientific, as well as, artistic fashion. She has developed a series of steps that help her to build layers that bring softness and form to those she paints. The process allows her to build from light to dark and concentrate on painting with specific pigments that work for most any skin tone. Her attention to detail is essential and paired with her ability to convey that information to others makes her a wonderful workshop instructor. Suzanna has filmed two DVDs on the subject of portraits to help new artists to learn the process more easily; Step by Step Portraits, where she shows how to paint an adult female, and also Step by Step Children’s Portraits, which focuses on the challenges of painting children. Teaching comes natural to her and the production of the two DVDs and a book, “Realistic Watercolor Portraits” has added to her contribution to the art community.
As part of her process, Suzanna chooses to paint from photos that she takes herself so that she captures the essence of a person’s character and personality. Children can be the most difficult to photograph due to their shyness and unfamiliarity of the photographer. Suzanna’s solution to this challenge is to visit the client’s home where the child will be more comfortable and at ease. She allows them to play and go about their day as she tries to remain inconspicuous while she takes her photos. Suzanna takes plenty of shots so she will have many to choose from with different backgrounds, lighting situations, and choice of indoors and out. She advises anyone who would want to begin in this area of art to master their skill as a portrait artist before they attempt to accept commissions.
Accepting the Challenge-
Over the years, I have drawn portraits and even painted several in acrylics, which can be more forgiving because you can cover up mistakes. However, up until now, I had never even attempted to paint a watercolor portrait. So, I decided it was time to expand my skills as an artist and venture out into the world of portrait painting. I chose Suzanna’s second DVD, Step by Step Children’s Portraits, and sat down with my notebook to take in all the great information she had to offer. The DVD is 128 minutes long, giving you thorough information about every aspect of developing a children’s portrait from a photo.
Chapters of Suzanna Winton- Step by Step Children’s Portraits
- The materials
- The background
- The face skin tones
- The crevice flesh colors
- Adding some darks
- More eyes and the jacket
- Darkening the skin tones
- More color to the hat, jacket and shirt
- Filling in the background
- The finishing touches
Skin Tone Palette- Winsor Yellow, Opera Rose, Quin Red, Scarlet Lake, New Gamboge, Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber, and Burnt Sienna.
Background Palette- Winsor Blue (GS), Winsor Green (BS), Halloween Orange, Burnt Sienna, Winsor Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Turquoise Lt., Cerulean Blue, Yellow Ochre, and Cobalt Violet Lt.
Paper- 300lb Arches Natural Hot Pressed
After reviewing the DVD, I gathered all of the supplies she recommended. Suzanna uses many brands of professional grade watercolor pigments, including Winsor & Newton and American Journey. She prefers Arches 300lb. Hot press watercolor paper which resists buckling when using the wet into wet technique that is necessary to create the smooth color transitions noted in her paintings. Suzanna’s exclusive choice for brushes are the Cheap Joe’s Legend Kolinsky Sable Rounds. From size 2-12, these absorbent and thirsty brushes are the finest quality and value available and are extremely affordable for artists of any skill. As an added bonus, inside the DVD cover you will find, Suzanna has provided you with a line drawing of the subject that can be enlarged, a color reference picture, and her personal notes on photographing the subject, and drawing out your subject. This is all great information to make it easier for you to jump right in and begin painting.
With my painting area set up and ready to go and my pattern transferred to the paper, I reviewed the DVD once again. This time, stopping it along the way to allow me to paint along with Suzanna as she explained the process. I took my time and referred to the information as needed to complete the painting in the step by step process she has developed. I found, as a first timer of painting a watercolor portrait, that her instruction was rather easy to follow and I really appreciated all of the great information, as well as, the reference material that was included in the DVD. It took me about two and a half hours to complete the 8×10 portrait, but I felt like pretty good about the results.
After I put the finishing touches on my first watercolor children’s portrait, I propped it up and walked across the room to take a look. You know, it really didn’t look too bad! The eyes were not exactly as I wanted, but everything else looked pretty good. I would say this portrait was a success for a first attempt, however, I have, by no means, mastered the skill of portrait painting. However, with Suzanna’s instruction, this bit of success has encouraged me to attempt a portrait of my own from scratch. It has also enlightened me to the challenges that professional portrait artists deal with everyday! I have a renewed respect for their art and the great talent and skill it takes to do a great job.
Among the many commissions she accepts each year, Suzanna also teaches portrait workshops nationwide to share what she has learned over the years. She will be at Cheap Joe’s of Boone this year, May 13-17, 2013, to teach her workshop entitled “Painting Portraits the Easy Way”. She has a lot of new and great information to pass on, as well as, new color combinations for skin tones and even more great tips and tricks to make painting portraits even easier and more successful. The workshop is appropriate for all levels of experience and I must say if I can find a small amount of success with a portrait by watching her DVD, imagine what you could learn in this workshop!
If you would like more information about registering for the workshop, you must hurry as the registration ends soon. Please contact Edwina May, the Cheap Joe’s workshop coordinator, to get more information about signing up or go to our website and order online. Spaces are limited to 25 students and fill up quickly. This is an experience of a lifetime for anyone wanting to pursue a professional career in commissioning portraits or perhaps, just wanting to paint their grandchild’s portrait as a family heirloom to be enjoyed for years to come!
Suzanna holds Signature Memberships in the Florida Watercolor Society, Southern Watercolor Society, and Watercolor West. She has also been featured in many publications including The Watercolor Artist’s Magazine (formerly Watercolor Magic), Splash 6, The Artist’s Magazine, and many more. With her delightful Southern charm and passion for portrait painting, Suzanna is an excellent instructor. For more information about Suzanna and her artwork, check out her website at suzannawintonwatercolors.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portrait painting can be completely intimidating and I guess that is why I have seemingly avoided it in the past. But I am delighted that I took a chance and completed the challenge. I know I have said it before, but I love, love, love to learn. So, a challenge met with some enthusiasm and determination can become quite a wonderful learning experience! That is exactly what I found out by watching Suzanna’s DVD. Remember, this was my first watercolor portrait! I hope my experience may inspire and encourage other artists, who have “painted around” the idea of trying a portrait, to take a chance. What do you have to lose? It’s only paper and a little paint, a lot of patience, and a small amount of time out of your day. But what you have to gain is priceless!
Have a Happy “Paint a Portrait” Day!