Gouache on paper, A4 (210 x 297 mm), Not for sale.

I started painting this picture from a photo reference, intending it to just be a relaxing activity to do instead of watching TV or binge eating. I didn’t expect it to take so long to complete – it took me about 16 hours over 4 weeks. But I’m happy with the end result, and it was indeed very relaxing.

This is the first time I’ve tried to paint a large, realistic style human face and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Gouache is a very forgiving medium in that it’s opaque, so you can simply cover up any mistakes you make as you go. It also dries fast, so a whole painting can be completed in a single sitting. However it is a little difficult to blend colours, and over-blending risks damaging the paper. So this is why I ended up having to mix so many different shades of blue and beige for this painting – I had to paint gradient shading in several graded steps. However I do like the effect – I like that it’s not completely photo-realistic and it still has a bit of that “painted” look which gives it some of its charm.

The orchids were interesting to paint, as my tracing didn’t offer much guidance so I had to figure that out by eye. I felt like I was just painting weird blobs of colour and didn’t have much confidence in it until I was done, took a photo and realised huh, that’s actually pretty good! The hair was troublesome and I’m still not sure how I could have made it better. I went over it several times and just never achieved the effect that I wanted. But it works okay and it’s not the focal point of the painting.

I was surprised at how well the silk kimono turned out, given how difficult it was. It required mixing so many different colours, including about 5 different shades of blue to get the shading right. My tracing for this section was very scattered and didn’t offer much guidance so I had to complete most of this by eyeing off the original and taking my best guess. It was certainly a challenge in terms of switching between seeing the flat colours on the reference photo and looking at the end result to see if the effect was working. It reminded me of the context-switching required to go from writing unit tests for computer code, to high-level functional tests. It turned out much better than I expected. I guess I just don’t trust my own talent.

It’s odd that the lady in the final painting looks a bit older than the lady in the reference photo. I’m not even sure why. Painting is interesting like that. This has really boosted my confidence when it comes to painting portraits. Next time I’ll try painting someone with open eyes and less smooth skin.