Here I will show you how using a transparent overlay can help you to define the areas that "went wrong" when you just can't see it yourself.
This method will only work if your reference photo is the same size as the portrait you are drawing.
I am going to use a recent ACEO portrait of a young couple that I was working on around Valentine's Day. Because of the small size (2.5 x 3.5 inches) I like to get started directly on the watercolor paper. I don't like fiddling around with a sketch first on plain paper, then trying to transfer it - my pencils don't stay sharp enough to transfer such small images anyway!
To the left, here's what my initial sketch looked like. Using an "H" pencil, I lightly mapped the facial structure and features. I prefer "H" because it doesn't smudge very much, and it keeps a good point.
The next image shows where I've defined the important features - and then erased all the mess off the excess graphite. I want to be careful here to not ruin the paper by excessive rubbing.
I've laid in some initial color - the eyes & mouth are defined, and a suggestion of skin tone. When painting brown eyes, it's important to start with any warm undertones first. Remember these are very small in the painting, so not a lot of detail is expected.
I add to the first layers, dropping some color into the hair (wet-in-wet) for highlights.
Time for the background so that I can get a better contrast ratio, then back to the hair. I have several photos of the young lady to work from, and her hair isn't usually curly - I prefer the straight version so I go with that. Also it appears in the photos that she has a lot of highlights, so I keep the hair lighter too. We're starting to get somewhere now - almost done.
I've completed the portrait, but it doesn't look right. I can't figure it out, & I'm going nuts looking at the reference photo. I email the proof to my client and she agrees - both subjects are "off". I go back one more time, and even though it's clear as mud now (as I'm writing this) at the time it evaded me.
HOW TO FIX IT:
I took a sheet of very clear tracing paper and traced the outline of each subject, as well as the eyes, nose and mouth. This is where we usually go wrong.
The problem jumped right out - I had placed the girl's right eye (left to the viewer) too high , including the brow line. Luckily for me, very easy to fix. A little water on a stiff brush easily lifted out the paint and once it dried I was able to fix it. The other problem was the boy's nose. I had too much of a concave curve to it. Once again, easy to fix using the same method. I finished off the eyes - adding a bit of green to the boy's and lightening up the girl's.
I've placed them side by side here so you can easily see the small but important changes I made. In the end, all was not lost - not even my sanity.
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