Step by step work in progress during the making of "Suspicion and disguise" (watercolour and ink).
Pencil sketch for composition
I like to draw a detailed pencil sketch to refine the composition of a piece first. While the sketch usually takes the least physical time of the whole painting process, it can take days to weeks to mentally construct the right composition before putting pencil to paper.
Inking the darks
I find using a combination of ink and watercolour works well because it allows very precise delineation of areas of detail and focus such as around the eyes and in the dark areas which cannot be achieved with watercolour alone. Using ink first helps set the level of contrast within the piece from the beginning.
I always start my portraits with the area of greatest focus, which is usually around the eyes. This is the region where detail and a sense of depth are most important. If this part doesn't work the way I envisioned, I start again from scratch.
After completing the focal point, I gradually expand my watercolours to the rest of the subject by following the shadow contours and form.
Paper surface and washes
Smooth 100% cotton rag paper provides a very robust surface for watercolour painting, meaning that I can build up numerous pale washes without either destroying the surface or muddying the colours.
I like to create a sense of detail that is not necessarily perceived upon first observation - I try to achieve this by using very fine and relatively pale brush strokes to hint at contours and shadows.
Watercolour washes and details
I generally start with several pale tonal washes; blotting and painting to gradually achieve the tones I am after. Over these washes I use fine brushstrokes to gently delineate fur, feathers or scales. I don't attempt to precisely outline every detail.
Background and non-subject foreground details and dark areas are blocked out to provide form for overlaying washes.
I don't aim for 100% photorealism with my portraits, but instead for a sense of character, movement and purpose. I prefer that my artwork is immediately recognizable as art, rather than photography. Here I have left out much of the lichen detail in favour of focussing on the birds.
After the background/foreground details are finished, pale tonal washes help to tie the whole piece together. In this example it was important to reflect the green of the lichen in the shadows on the birds.