Painting Audrey Hepburn without drawing first

Here is a little exercise I did today: painting Audrey Hepburn and a floral still life without drawing first. I took a scrap piece of 140lb cold press watercolor paper and sat down at the dining room table with some art magazines, tea, toast and paint.

(NB: all the photos are thumbnails - click for larger versions)

The first thing I did was clear off the mess on the table to make room for me and my stuff.

I flipped open the spring 2009 publication of Watercolor to an article by the very talented Pat Weaver about resolving common problems. Now I have to admit I haven't read the article yet (but I will); however, I was inspired nonetheless by her vibrant still life painting "Floral on Yupo". As many of you know by now, I usually steer away from florals - to be honest I find them intimidating - so I figured this would be a good way to play.

I made a rough 3x4 inch sketch of a vase but didn't draw any flowers, and then just dabbled away with a few colours from my pallette: French ultramarine, Quinacridone Rose, and Cobalt Yellow. I threw in a bit of sap green and quinacridone red at one point, but not much.

It was a good exercise, but not much fun for Christy.

So then I got into some juicy stuff: painting Audrey Hepburn WITHOUT A DRAWING - pretty gutsy huh? I wish I'd videotaped it (or at least taken "in progress" photos) because I actually surprised myself. To keep it simple, I stuck with just one colour, Payne's Grey.

I used the "referencing" technique, where you choose one feature to start with and reference everything else from each subsequent feature. Sort of like connecting dots. In this case, I started with the eye you see on the right, then worked up to the eyebrow, over to the cheekbones (which I later had to expand as they were too close) then up to the second eye, down to the nose (which I did very lightly until after I did the mouth, to be sure I had the placement right). Next I did the mouth and chin. I took a step back and realized the mouth was too high (you can still see a bit of the original wash) so I fixed that too.

The portrait isn't photo-perfect, but I feel it's pretty darn close, and definitely recognizable as Audrey Hepburn. All in all, this was a very good exercise for me and one I recommend to anyone looking to practice their techniques.

Have you tried painting without a preliminary sketch? If so, what did you think?

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Manon said…
Wow Christy! Fabulous work without a sketch especially with watercolor where it's easier to totally screw up.
I usually draw the face .... not as "gutsy' as you!
You should of done a video.... it would of been awesome!
PurrPrints said…
Wow, I'm impressed! I stick more with ink than paints, but I usually don't do faces without a sketch (make that a repeatedly erased and redrawn sketch) first to go from - go you!
PurrPrints said…
oh--and do a vid next time so we can watch the process unfold--that would be delightful!
Unknown said…
Hello Manon & PurrPrints, thank you for your comments! This is the first time I've dared to paint a portrait entirely without a sketch - usually there's too much time and money at stake to take those risks.

So yes, I will definitely do a video next time - it truly just started out as a little exercise while sipping tea but turned into so much more. glad you both like it.
LindaGJ said…
Hi Christy & I must say WOW too! That's the 1st word that came to my head when I saw you fabulous artwork! Your talent is way beyond the extreme! I will have to check out your shop on Etsy as well and follow your blog more. Beautiful work. Thanks for dropping by my blog!
Linda :)
Mishkat said…
I have admired your work on Etsy for a while - how great to learn about the process! I paint in watercolor too (although just for fun, and not all that well!) and I really like both these pieces. I'm amazed that you could do Audrey without a sketch - and I prefer the landscape orientation also.
Unknown said…
Linda, thank you for the warm fuzzy comments. I enjoyed your blog very much also!

Mishcat, so nice to see your smiling furry face. I'm glad you found my post informative, and of course you're always welcome in my Etsy shop!
Unknown said…
I like your painting very much. Am quite impressed with your work.
Anonymous said…
I love your paintings. I never use a preliminary sketch, but I usually do landscapes and animals... Your portrait is really good.

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