Watercolor Lessons – Painting Black and Brown Hair

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I love to share what I have discovered on my painting journey. My painting style can best be described as naturalistic realism. Many of my paintings include people in a pensive or thought provoking pose. Part of the feeling of reality is due to the way I use my watercolor. I am able to create paintings where the viewer of the painting can become lost inside the world within the frame.

I am often asked how to paint specific things. One of the most asked questions relates to painting hair. In this article I will share with you how I paint black or brown hair in watercolor.

I believe that the secret to creating paintings that give an impression of 'reality' and 'presence' is underwashing. I will tell you how I do it – using black hair as an example:

First of all take note of where the highlights are. With black hair the highlights are often blue. With dark brown hair, the highlights can be straw-colored or yellow / orange.

Now establish and tone these highlight areas with the highlight color you see in the hair of your model or in your reference photograph. Remember to keep these highlights light and ensure you do not over-paint them. They will give the impression of shiny healthy hair. (You can fine-tune the highlight color at the end of the painting if you need to.)

Remember to let your paper become bone dry before you begin painting the next underwash.

Now you need to establish a richness of color that will lay benefit your black hues. This is done by creating a glow. There are many reasons for this – too many to write here. You will have to trust me on this one: everywhere you see dark blacks or browns, you need to paint in a transparent yellow underlayer. Depending on the depth of the darkness – sometimes I paint three washes of transparent yellow to build up a good depth of color. Now you are ready to paint your black / dark brown hair.

Depending on the color temperature and source of the light, black hair can often be a mix of Thalo blue, Thalo green, Alizarin crimson and a tiny touch of Indian Yellow. Vary these mixes and do brush-out practices so you can see the huge array of hues you can achieve with them.

Brown hair can be a mix of Indian Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Translucent Orange and Thalo Blue. Now use the appropriate mix where you see it on your model.

A tip: I only use Schmincke hues as they are transparent and perfectly ground which makes them ideal for building fine washes of color that give a three dimensional reality to a painting. Transparency is important because it helps you avoid mud. Mixing 'mud' is always a trap for young players! Happy painting!