Two Watercolorists Face Off From Across the Globe

U.S. artist David Lobenberg and Nigerian painter Ibe Ananaba embarked on a unique watercolor portrait painting project and learned more than they could have imagined about process, how to capture unique expressions, and each other's culture.

David Lobenberg (California, U.S.-based) and Ibe Ananaba (Lagos, Nigeria-based) came across each other’s work online in 2010 and developed an instant connection. After years of mutual respect, the duo decided to collaborate on a unique watercolor portrait project. In November 2017, they started with the idea to make paintings of the same model in their own unique styles and share them with each other via social media. In their quest to deepen the narrative of their joint project, however, the idea soon morphed into an exercise that saw the artists painting each other instead. “We saw it as a great opportunity to engage two cultures with one another,” says Ananaba.

In order to make it interesting, both artists have been sharing a variety of photos of themselves for reference, taken in both conventional and non-conventional portrait styles. These photos have different moods, facial expressions, as well as lighting. The whole idea is for the artists to challenge themselves to go beyond the usual and capture the essence and character of the subject—as well as have fun.

The artists both paint in a loose watercolor style but there are obvious differences in their work, too. “David uses more vibrant and intense colors, while Ibe’s colors are on the softer side,” they say. “David sketches out his subject traditionally with pencil before applying color, while Ibe likes to challenge himself by painting his subject direct without initial pencil sketches.”

Both artists say the experience has been “an eye-opener.” As they share their processes and results of each painting they do, they’ve learned new things from each other’s work. The project is a great tool to stay inspired, exercise their creativity, and keep their portrait painting skills sharp. “This initiative further demonstrates how art, generally is a powerful tool of communication and bonding regardless of age, location, tribe, and race,” they say.

“We’re both looking forward to navigating the next stages of this face-off, and seeing where it will take us. It’s been a privilege to study and paint a person from a different culture, in many sessions. It has been a good exercise in strengthening each other’s courage and confidence in using a delicate medium (watercolor) as the major tool for this cultural exchange.”

Reference photo of Ibe Ananaba
“Ibe Ananaba” by David Lobenberg
“Ibe Ananaba” by David Lobenberg
Reference photo of David Lobenberg
“David Lobenberg” by Iba Ananaba
“David Lobenberg” by Iba Ananaba

People are complicated, but painting them doesn’t have to be. Through Michael Holter’s 7 Steps to Watercolor Portraits, you’ll discover the freedom of working through your painting one confident step at a time. 



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