The art of watercolour portraits - painted with HORADAM® AQUARELL - by Nuno Pinto

Hello, my name is Nuno Pinto.

I'm a children's book illustrator and a watercolour artist based in Portugal. In recent years, I have developed figurative work, especially portraits. In addition to my children's illustration work, I carry out exhibitions, workshops and I paint portraits on demand. I also recently created a watercolour portraits course on the Domestika platform.

There is something especially challenging about the art of watercolour portraits. Watercolours have a very specific behavior, they are difficult to control, but that is part of their nature and charm. For me, painting a portrait always requires creating new interpretations and presenting something more emotional through the colours. Is never repetitive, on the contrary, surprises a rise in each process.

Let's start with my material. I use a reduced selection of HORADAM® AQUARELL watercolours from Schmincke. Watercolours can easily create a wide range of colours, so I prefer to concentrate on a small number of colours and really get to know the possibilities of my palette.


You will need:

  • Colours from HORADAM® AQUARELL in pans or tubes:
    211 lemon yellow, 227 cadmium orange light, 349 cadmium red light, 356 Rose madder,
    357 Alizarin Crimzon, 487 cobalt blue light, 494 ultramarine finest, 656 yellow raw ochre,
    671 transparent umber, 782 Neutral tint
  • Brushes: A small natural brush known as "Petit Gris" (You can also use a Chinese brush or any soft brush), two semi-synthetic fine-tipped brushes, a number 6 and a number 12
  • Paper: fine grain 100% cotton paper
  • Others: A soft pencil (B or 2B), a soft rubber, a napkin, paper tape


Step 1 - The drawing
The drawing is fundamental, a bad drawing rarely produces a good painting. I do not use any method of transposing photos, such as the grid method, or a lighttable. I prefer to develop my own interpretation through a free drawing. That way I can do something more creative that matches my sensitivity and intention. I use the envelope method, starting from a general structure, I add plans and details until I reach a result with enough information to paint.


Step 2 - The first layer
I use my soft brush to create the first layer with warm colours (656, 349, 356,357). I try to create some diversity by mixing different intensities of these colours. With a napkin, I wipe off any excess colour from the lighter areas. I'm not too concerned with rigor during this step, I'm mainly trying to create a base layer in which I identify areas with different saturations.


Step 3 - The hair
With the same soft brush, I add the hair very loosely, using the colour transparent umber 671 mixed with ultramarine finest 494 in the darker areas.


Step 4 - The shadows
I use my brush number 12 to add shadows and create volumes, using a more intense mixture of colours (cobalt blue light 487 and alizarine crimson 357).This step is very important, it allows you to create volumes and give more life to our portrait.


Step 5 - The details
With my brush number 6, I use the previous mixture (cobalt blue light 487 and alizarin crimson 357) mixed with my neutral colour Neutral tint 782, to get a darker colour. I highlight some of the elements that I consider the most important, such as the blue eyes.


Step 6 - Erase the pencil lines
I use a soft eraser to remove the pencil traces, I don't always remove all the traces, sometimes it's interesting to leave some, they end up telling a little about our process.


Step 7 - Final details
In this step I try to create some additional interest, I create outlines to highlight the figure and lines and areas of greater saturation. This step also allows me to adjust the overall composition.


The final portrait
As you can see, painting a portrait is not necessarily difficult, it requires the use of quality materials such as HORADAM® AQUARELL and some prior planning. It is also important to know your colours, the different blends you can get through them and the contrast or harmony you can create between them.

I hope this tutorial was helpful, good paintings!