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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Adding a Splash of Colour to my sketches

Still working with my friends, Redi, Lora and Kristyna's portraits - I decided to turn their portrait sketches into an abstract splatter watercolour painting

This is something I haven’t really done before – essentially merging two styles of painting which I am confident in creating; Watercolour and ink portraits and watercolour splatter paintings. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out or the best way to achieve the effect I was seeking, so I made a total of four portraits per participant – approaching the technique in four different ways.

The first style I attempted didn’t work so well. I drew the outline of their faces in a thin, waterproof ink line (which doesn’t smudge when watercolour is added). I then added lines in the areas of shade with a thicker, water-soluble ink pen (which bleeds when watercolour is added). I then used a thick watercolour brush to paint in the area of their portrait in the colours they had chosen to represent their identity. Once this had dried I added splatters in the same colours. I think the problem with this technique was that the colour came out very flat, so although you could see the linework beneath it wasn’t a compelling depiction of the individuals, this would require shading around the contours of their face. I also think I made the base colours too intense, which made it even more difficult to see the linework beneath (for this reason, I think Redi’s turned out the best, since the base colours had been applied a bit weaker than the others). Additionally, the mixing of three or four colours as the base, didn’t really work, especially when the colours aren’t next to each other on the colour wheel. For example, Kristyna’s colours; pink, purple, blue and green can blend into each other, whereas Lora’s colours; neon yellow, hot pink, hot purple and black cannot. As a result Lora’s portrait turned out as a complete mess. Finally, I decided I didn’t like the thicker black linework as the bleed wasn’t as much as I had hoped and it ultimately just made the portraits look messier than I wanted.

The second style I tried started in exactly the same way but working from different photographs, I drew the linework in a thin waterproof ink. I then went straight to adding watercolour splatters in their chosen colours. Initially, I made the mistake of adding the base layers too intensely – So, I took a paper towel and absorbed some of the paint so that the colours were still there but much more faint this time. Finally I added the splatters, in more intense colours, taking care not to make too many across the face, so that the line work would appear clearly (obviously this is not easy to control since the splatters are by nature haphazard). I think these portraits turned out better, especially Lora’s. I think Kristyna’s turned out the worse because I’d chosen quite a complicated photo of her to work from where she was wearing a lanyard and holding a microphone and the splatters were too small – it worked better in the other two when there were bigger blotches of colour. Ultimately, the images were still quite flat since there was no shading around the contours of their faces.

In the third style I tried, I aimed to tackle the issue of the shading. I started with the waterproof ink linework again, working from a third photograph of each of them. Then I chose one base colour from their chosen 3-4 colours (pink for Kristyna, blue for Redi and neon yellow for Lora), to create shading around the contours of their faces. Once this had dried, I added the splatters in all of their chosen colours. These splatters were small and intense (rather than weak and blotchy) and I tried to avoid too many around their face, so that their image was clearly recognisable. I think Kristyna’s turned out the best here, although I did get a big blue blotch on her face which I hadn’t intended. Lora’s didn’t work so well since the contrast between the weak and intense yellow in the base wasn’t as discernible and therefore the shading didn’t work so well. In hindsight, I regret choosing neon yellow as her base colour. I was pretty happy with how Redi’s turned out here, although I don’t think the splatters worked as well on Kristyna’s.

In the final style I tried tackling the issue of shading in a different way. Instead of relying on the watercolours to provide the shading, I focussed on the linework to deliver the contouring. After finishing the linework I added the watercolour splatters in their chosen colours, dabbed the painting with the kitchen roll to reduce the intensity of the marks and allowed it to dry before adding more concentrated small splatters. Overall, I think this style delivered the best outcomes.

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