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Portraiture in mixed media

Paul Riley shows that using several media at once in portraiture can work remarkably well. The secret to success is in the correct sequence of application


Every medium has a specific character, so if you are sufficiently disciplined in applying them the results can be most satisfying. Features such as eyes and hair can be well handled using pen and brushwork; skin tone and textures can be beautifully rendered with pastel, whilst clothing details are easily done in gouache.

The difficulty with mixing media is that applying them out of sequence, or carelessly, can result in a mess: don’t use pen work over gouache or pastel; watercolour or gouache over pastel will be messy. The options I suggest are:

Pen and wash. This is using an underwash of either dilute ink, for example the base colour of the pen work, coloured inks or watercolour. This can be done over a light preparatory sketch in pencil. Once the underwash is dry the pen work can be done. Or, by using waterproof ink, the pen work can be done first and the washes applied when the pen work is dry.

Pen and gouache. It is best if the waterproof pen work is done first, then the gouache applied when it is dry. Gouache is an opaque medium and can be rather heavy. It is probably best used for character portraits with severe tonal contrasts and textures: beards, hats, jewellery, and so on.

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About The Artist

Let this month's issue of The Artist inspire and guide your next steps in drawing and painting a range of figurative subject matter in all media. From realistic still lifes in acrylics, watercolour landscape challenges suggested by Amanda Hyatt, David Parfitt and Paul Talbot-Greaves, through to portraits in oils and mixed media, our fantastic team of practising artist-contributors aim to help you develop your knowledge and skills based on their own experiences as professional artists and tutors. Check out the list of contents for more details of all the great articles in this issue, and look out for our latest sketching competition to enter on page 66, plus win £500 worth of gift vouchers to spend on art materials with Great Art in our PaintersOnline competition on page 6. See also pages 12 to 13 for the latest news on the Patchings Art, Craft & Design Festival (July 12-15). We will be celebrating the opening of our annual The Artist open exhibition there on July 12. We look forward to meeting our successful selected artists and visitors to the festival.