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“Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor” by Mary Whyte

September 12, 2014

PaintingPortraitsandFigures-cmyk-235x300Left: Cover of Mary Whyte's "Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor." Image ©Mary Whyte.

I think I must have first seen some of Mary Whyte's lovely watercolor portraits in magazines. I don't know how I missed seeing that she'd published "Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor" in 2011. But a couple years ago I did discover DVDs in which Whyte gave wonderful demos about her painting approach.

I recommend the DVDs "Mastering Watercolor Portraiture with Mary Whyte" and "Watercolor Portraits of the South with Mary Whyte" for any artist interested in creating watercolor portraits, regardless of the style you work in—because her approach with the medium is clear and straightforward and just as clearly explained.

You can purchase both of these DVDs from the store on Whyte's website, just scroll down until you see them.)

As you scroll down through her website's store you'll also see the book "Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor." 

This book recently came to my attention through some "you might also like" option on Amazon or some place like that. Because I enjoyed Whyte's DVDs so much I purchased it, but when I came to read it my enjoyment of the book was interrupted by a string of family crises. 

I had to keep putting the book down almost as soon as I picked it up. And because of that my reading of the book was colored by that experience of interruption. I was actually initially disappointed in the book, not because it isn't well-written, it is well written, but because I felt it spent too much time on basics that could be found in other books.

I wasn't even going to review the book here.

Then I decided to take another look at the book in some connected moments of free time and saw the book with fresh eyes. Its biggest fault is that it is not one of the DVDs, it's not Whyte "in real time" while she works, explaining how she does something why something is part of her process. But a book can't be that.

As a book on watercolor portraiture, however, it is a wonderful book that will engage beginners with terms and techniques they are unaware of while at the same time explaining enough of process and compositional needs and color use to be of value to the more experienced watercolor artist. 

The book also contains useful discussions from Whyte about the process of painting, the passion of painting, the discovery of a style, and the work ethic needed to improve one's craft.

I realized in this second reading that the book was very much still Whyte's voice, I had simply become impatient by other events in my life.

I also realized on this second reading that unlike many books on watercolor painting, Whyte's explanations of techique are completely integrated into a thoughtful layout of her process. She presents things in a fashion which allows the reader greater understanding of each technique in her work. Such a presentation encourages understanding in the reader. The approach is cohesive. It clearly comes from a writer who knows how to teach.

There is also one huge advantage to the book—so many large reproductions of Whyte's work. You are able to see clearly the transitions she writes about and encourages you to practice in your own work.

I still believe that the two videos I recommend at the beginning of this post are essential viewing for folks who want to paint portraiture with watercolor. Now I also feel completely comfortable recommending this book. I see all three items as accompanying and supporting each other—creating a very detailed exploration of this artist's artistic approach. You may have heard or learned some of the terms and exercises the book contains, but the book also stands alone as an integrated approach carefully presented.

And in these three items you'll see Whyte's working method from different vantage points that will increase your understanding of her approach. Whether you choose to work in watercolor using the same methods as Whyte does or take a more expermental approach, her book and videos will help you make choices built on a thorough understanding. I think that's tremendously valuable.

I also think it's valuable that she often reminds the reader how much practice and work is involved in creating a beautiful painting, even for someone as skilled as herself.

And the last thing, almost too silly to mention, that I enjoyed about this book is that she quoted Hippocrates more completely than is usual:

Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult.

Whyte's words should already have lit a fire under you, but if not digest Hippocrates for a moment. Then get busy painting because whether you realize it or not opportunity is very fleeting indeed.

Note: I reviewed Mary Whyte's DVDs in my February 04, 2013 post: Reading List: Portrait Painting Books and DVDs. Scroll down that post to the DVD section. Refer to that post for additional portraiture books and DVDs.

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  1. Reply

    Roz: I got to see Ms, Whyte when she came to a workshop locally in 2013. She is truly an engaging speaker who talks from the heart. I took notes. She said something to the effect” as an artist I’ve never regretted the paintings I’ve done…I have regretted the paintings I didn’t do…”

  2. Reply

    Ellen, it’s great to know she’s fun to hear in person. That’s the impression I get from the DVDs that I’ve seen. I think she says that thing about regret in her book or on one of the DVDs as it sounds familiar. I like that attitude!

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