Called out by the Model

[Long pose session, these were half hour warmups. Watercolor, 12×16″]

I was at the daytime long pose session at George Vanier Cultural Centre, which is always a nice opportunity. It’s one hour longer than a standard life drawing workshop. Which is just fine by me. I like to get at least two watercolors out of a long pose – so that extra hour to warm up feels like a luxury.

I was happily sketching way – trying to to focus on a few things:

  • Draw directly with the brush (dropping my pencil drawing safety net),
  • Establish a silhouette with the first few strokes,
  • Work color variation into the shapes while wet, (charging in).
  • Don’t neglect the background tone. I’m often making figures on blank whiteness.

That was going well enough. But in the break our model called me out.

“I look like a 9 year old girl!” she says.

Rightly so. That was a weird mistake. Not sure how it happened. Her head had definitely gotten large and child like.

In the second half, I pushed to get a real likeness. I’ve been giving myself a free pass on likeness for so long (I mean, you have to start somewhere, and getting a nice figure is hard enough, I just say “Don’t worry if it doesn’t even look like them.  After the model is gone, who’s going to know?’). But the time has come that I have to be able to get both a painting and a portrait, hey? If I’m going to do this work professionally :)

I’ve only done a few commissioned portraits – and each and every one of them has been sweating bullets. Until this year. Magically – that practice stuff is starting to pay off.


I’m pretty happy with this one. In particular, the shape of her hair and cast shadows on the forehead. At the time her hair was throwing me off my stride – I only realized it after the fact – it’s because Afro-textured hair doesn’t reveal the shape of the skull like I’m used to in a Caucasian. Funny – It’s one of my own bon mots that a portrait is just a ‘Head Shape / Hair Shape’. Yet it took me a few tries to get it right on her.

I’m glad Sarah called me out. I needed that push. That right there is a hidden reason to work from life. You don’t get that collaboration from photo reference.

Brush-wise: In the future I have to focus on a few more things:

  • Make the shadow shapes melt a bit more into the light,
  • Same with the background – more lost edges – less cut out shapes,
  • Wet-on-dry gives you plenty of control – but it errs on the side of sharp edges,
  • I’m going to experiment with painting the figure in reverse silhouette next time – to allow better melting into the background.

4 thoughts on “Called out by the Model

  1. I am drawn to the drastic change in maturity… body shape, palette, brushwork.. the skin tone contrasts with the first go as very refined. I wonder how much personality affects your choice of model. I’ve never worked with a casual model like that. They’re mostly students and they are afraid to be honest or have an opinion.

  2. Marc,such a lovely painting.i have so enjoyed your blog and work. If you ever have you tube videos would you do one how you use your brush for tree foliage I love the way your trees look in watercolor.
    Thank you,

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