Here is a useful watercolor portrait technique to help you establish your composition and draw the eyes to the focal point you desire.

The idea is to establish a triangle between you, the subject of the painting and that subject’s focus point. In other words -sometimes having your sitter stare away is the best way to draw attention to your subject. Here is an example of that portrait composition technique (watercolor portrait on Arches paper, 10″ x 14″).


Watercolor portrait and composition technique


A few more tips and comments on watercolor portrait compositions and techniques:

Using color to emphasize your subject’s focal point helps -note how colors go from dark to light as you look from left to right and follow the sitter in staring away from you

Brush strokes can help achieve a similar effect -note how a dry brush was used for the sitter’s hair on the left, whereas I used a wash at the right of the portrait, therefore going from defined areas and strokes to diffused ones. Also, you will see a dry brush used one on the face, right above the focal point I wanted to establish (right eyebrow, above the sitter’s eye and the lightest point on the face).

The placement of your signature is strategic to balance out the composition and offset the defined to diffuse transition in the painting

Make the light work for you and the people looking at the portrait -have it bounce off where you want to draw attention and guide the eyes

Curves can frame a face in a way that is easier on the eyes -see the curve of the subject’s hair. I find that hair is the most useful framing parameter available to the artist when painting children and women.

Texture helps -I use rough watercolor paper to contrast with the soft washes and overall painting technique. It’s a question of balance in the overall structure of they portrait and watercolor.

You can read more about my watercolor techniques (including watercolor portrait technique and many examples) here.