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Baby Self-Portraits - Process

This series was part of a project that was really a lot of fun! It ended up being really experimental, and was an opportunity to try a new medium that I'll probably end up incorporating into a lot of my work: Gum Arabic and Ink Wash.

The project involved working across four images at once, so I wanted to keep a similar theme throughout in order to keep my brain in a focused place without having such different subject matter. So I decided on making four portraits of myself a child/toddler that best case, would look awesome and I could give to my parents as a gift and worst case, no one would be offended that my experimental portrait technique didn't do them justice.

This particular painting technique required watercolor gum arabic for its water-solubility, and acrylic ink for its permanence. The portraits are on illustration board, since you actually end up running water over them and you need something stiff that isn't going to deteriorate under the water.

After drawing the initial sketches, I dipped a nice flat brush into my gum (I used Windsor and Newton Gum Arabic) and basically used it as a mask to keep the lightest values the white of the paper. I then went into my ink, which I heavily diluted with water, and did a wash over the entire page to create that first value. After it all dried, I repeated those same two steps again and again: masking with gum, washing with ink, masking, washing, masking, etc, building up the value of the piece over many layers.

By the time I had gotten to the last layer of the ink, they started looking a little bit demonic, but I was assured that's how you know you're getting close to done. The darkest darks had been put down on the page and it was time to wash the gum off!

The washing process was super nerve-wracking the first time I tried it, especially as a watercolor artist. My greatest fear is my paintings getting rained on, so deliberately washing water over my illustration board felt so wrong. But after a gently rubbing of my fingers on the gum, the layers started to peel off and I was left with these beautiful base values that I could work back into with my usual watercolor and ink.

Per my usual process, I went over the ink wash with my watercolor paints, and I was really impressed with how well the watercolor dried overtop the acrylic ink! I just needed it to stain the page with some color, as I already had so much value happening with the ink, and of course all my glitter accents are made with paints from The Smiling Hippo. Then I was able to go back in with my pens and give it the most absolutely wonderful texture that all of my drawings get.

And here are all four finished baby portraits!

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