Working From a Live Model

“Sara” (watercolor, 12 x 12 in.)

Painting a portrait from a live model challenges the sensibilities of the artist, particularly due to the limited amount of time allotted for the process. I spent approximately one hour on this sketch of Sara, Toward the end, I could feel myself working at a faster pace, in an attempt to include more detail. As I look at the sketch, I’m glad I stopped when I did. Doing so allowed me to preserve the simplicity of this work.

“Sophie Reclining” (watercolor, 6 x 12 in.)

Oftentimes sketching an idea can give you a visual indication of how it will be perceived, prior to spending valuable time and energy on a finished work. I was planning a large-scale painting, using this pose of Sophie Reclining. However, after sketching the figure, I felt the model did not seem comfortable. This became abundantly clear within a few minutes of laying in washes. I did enjoy working with the subject, however, so I continued painting for a while longer. As you build a comprehensive body of work, you’ll develop an innate ability to decipher a good idea from a great one.

Excerpted from Lessons in Realistic Watercolor. A Contemporary Approach to Painting People and Places in the Classical Tradition, by Mario Andres Robinson (Monacelli Studio, New York, NY, 2016). Copyright ©2016 Mario Andres Robinson. All rights reserved. Excerpted with permission from Monacelli Press ( in the June-July 2016 issue of PleinAir Magazine.

Mario Robinson has a new Liliedahl art workshop video available, titled “Portrait Painting Techniques That Tell a Story.”


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