Portrait painting is one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most demanding genres of painting. As with everything in watercolor painting, it requires practice and the right approach if you want to learn how to paint a portrait.
In this tutorial, you will learn how to paint a portrait of the American singer Billie Eilish and discover how to approach it.
All the principles and instructions presented here can be applied to any other face so that you can paint a portrait or even a self-portrait instead.
Learn how to paint a portrait: Billie Eilish
First, you sketch the person you want to paint. Use an HB pencil and apply little pressure to the pencil so that the strokes are not noticeable later.
You should pay close attention to the accurate drawing of the most important facial features if you are working from a model or a photographic reference. It can be helpful to print a picture as a reference to draw it as accurately as possible while lying directly next to your drawing surface.
We want to paint Billie Eilish, but in our style and not as realistically as possible based on the exact facial features of the singer.
It was more important to us to draw the composition on the painting paper and to decide on a light source that would later produce the reflections on the skin.
On the (from the viewer’s point of view) left cheek, on the left half of the lips, on the chin, and on the nose, you can see how these lighter areas can already be considered in the sketch as elliptical shapes.
Mix your skin colors and start by layering the skin tones. Not only in our Billie Eilish portrait is this procedure recommended, but also for numerous motifs in watercolor. Layering color has the advantage that you can work out the motif step by step and gradually increase the contrast. Layering also creates an organic gradient, as the deeper layers of the paint shine through and are reactivated by overpainting.
After the first layer of paint, you can see where you should take the light reflections into account when the light source shines on the subject from the left. It is worthwhile to take a closer look at the interplay of light and shadow by carrying out your experiments with a lamp in front of a mirror (or in front of a smartphone).
Next comes the priming of the still colorless picture elements, to be able to assess the color contrasts better when learning to paint portraits.
In our case, we primed the hair of Billie Eilish with a very faint green-yellow and some skin color influences. Let your portrait dry before you continue.
Once the color foundation is established, you can increase the contrast by intensifying the depth of color. You can do this with color mixtures that contain more pigment and less water.
As you can see, we have prepared a pink shade and painted it on the nose and lips.
Extend this color accent to the cheek areas. Always consider in your pattern which areas are lighter and which are darker. In this step, we have also primed the iris of the eye with a faint green tone.
Remember: If you don’t like transitions in your portrait yet, watercolors have the great advantage that you can reactivate them with water.
You can see how we have painted the right cheek and the area above the lip a little smoother with water.
The old portrait painting game: Once again, you increase the contrast by painting the dark parts of the subject stronger/darker.
On the nose and cheeks, we darkened the pink tone, and we intensified some strands of green color on the hair.
If you are satisfied with the skin areas, you can turn to the individual facial features. We start with the eyes. With a dark brown, you draw in the eyelids and the eyelid crease. The iris can also be carefully outlined with this dark brown. The pupil is particularly dark and is usually drawn with a dark grey tone like burnt umbra.
It is essential that you also consider the light reflections in the eye area in this step.
Step 4 in how to paint a portrait
Next on the list are the eyebrows. If you want to learn how to paint a portrait in a realistic look, it is essential to point out the eyebrows’ single hairs. This usually does not work as accurately with a brush as with a pencil, but it is not necessary. A few suggestive brush strokes which follow the curve of the eyebrow are already sufficient.
In this step, we have also added outlines on the nose, nostrils, mouth, and chin.
Now trace these lines once again with a darker shade to adjust the contrasts. The eyeliner becomes darker, the lip separation and the nostrils as well. The contrasts on the eyebrows have also been increased in some places.
In the sixth step, it gets exciting. The iris of the eye was enhanced with a darker shade.
But the biggest change takes place in the lip area. Overall, the color has been significantly intensified, making the contrast to the lighter areas on the lips so high. To be able to reproduce the texture of the lips, it is essential to look at the organ’s structure. The skin of the lips is fragile and has small vertical wrinkles, which we suggested with a fine brush in our portrait.
Step 7 in how to paint a portrait of Billie Eilish
To better assess the brightness of the face, we decided to paint the green of Billie Eilish’s hair. Different shades of green in different brightness should create the individual strands. Note the light and shadow cast here as well.
With long hair that lies over the shoulder, the inside facing the face is usually darker. For example, this can be seen in the lower right-hand corner next to the face in our watercolor portrait.
In this step, the added lashes are most striking. Nevertheless, the contrasts in other parts of the portrait have also been increased. The eyebrows, the left nostril and the crease of the lips were emphasized with almost black color.
Step 9, and we’re almost there. In this step of learning how to paint a portrait, you can make adjustments and special features.
Our Billie Eilish has come to life with a white marker. An additional light reflection on the nose, highlights in the eyes, and some light freckles add that special touch to a watercolor portrait.
In the end, only adjustments were made to the hair. Dark green tones are used to indicate individual strands.
The area of the hair that is directly turned towards the face on the right has been painted particularly dark to create the most incredible possible contrast to the tones of the skin color, making a face look more lively.
And this is how the watercolor portrait looks like in the result: