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ATTN: Artists: seeking advice on watercolor portraiture

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Heyo folks. Unlike many (most, hopefully) of y'all, I can't play Deadfire. At all. Because crashes. Constantly the crashes. So in the meantime I thought I'd try my hand at some watercolor portraits to mod into the game. Gonna do myself as an elf w/ a goatee because Evil Spock, and am thinking of make a Death Godlike based on Avery Brooks (who you may know as Benjamin Sisko) and an Orlan based on Ellie Kemper (who you may know as the unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).


Only I haven't done much more than pencil sketches (and digital oil painting) in more than a decade. It's probably been two decades since I've tried watercolors (kindergarten/preschool, basically).


So I'm here to pose a few questions to any artists who might be floating around the forum. Specifically:


  • Is it possible to use a minimal amount of water to prevent sketchpad paper from warping, or am I gonna have to go buy some thicker watercolor paper?
  • Is it better to do the ink outlining before or after the watercoloring?
  • Is there a good, hi-resolution example of Obsidian's water-color portraiture out there that would make a good reference for me (so I can mimic the style)?
  • I'm really not very good at shading. Is there a good way to keep the water colors from bleeding into each other (or the ink)? Like, would a charcoal pencil or chalk or maybe something like a waxy crayon be helpful? Ideally something that would be easy to remove or render "invisible" b/c I don't believe Obsidian's water-color portraits appear to have anything other than ink and paint in 'em.
  • Any general advice/tips for someone who hasn't done much 2D art in a long time without the aid of a Wacom tablet and sophisticated art applications? (Tablet is currently broken, hence my return to physical media).
Edited by Arsene Lupin
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I've never been that great with watercolor, so I can't answer everything with confidence (and I'm brand-spankin' new to the forums, so someone more knowledgeable may very well post before moderator approval of this)--but I'll offer what I can!

  • You might be able to fudge it with watercolor pencils and just enough water to move the pigment? But I never had luck preventing warping, so I'm not sure.
  • Ink after. You might be able to ink first if it's waterproof--but it still has a chance of bleeding, so it's much safer to do a light pencil sketch, do the colors, and then ink after you've let it dry. That also lets you use the lineart to cover up potential small mistakes made while coloring.
  • I don't see any of the base portraits, but google gave me a post with the Critical Role ones at a larger size than I've seen in-game: https://critrole.com/deadfire-watercolor-vox-machina-portrait-reveal/
  • If you have rubber cement, you can use that to block out spaces you don't want the watercolor to go. Masking fluid is the specific material made for use with watercolor, but they're very similar--you paint them in the area you want to avoid color on (either in lines or blocked out areas), let it dry, paint what you want, and after that's dry, gently rub off whichever you use with an eraser. Crayon might work in a similar, more permanent-on-the-page manner, but also less effectively--I'm pretty sure the watercolor would seep through some.
  • Bonus: start with light colors first. If you start with dark colors, they will be much more likely to bleed into the light ones, and it'll cause undue struggle. Consider testing, both in general swatches and on sketches--do not be afraid to do multiple attempts of your portraits, if you have the materials. Practice until you're satisfied.
  • Bonus 2: looking at the larger Critical Role portraits (and judging by the total amount available), I'm pretty certain they were all done digitally. Keep that in mind regarding your end results, especially (I think) the colors and precision--don't feel like you have to use a pure, untouched scan of your work when you're done. Adjusting colors, details, or doing edits digitally is absolutely within reason, and not cheating in the least. (Harder without a tablet, boy howdy do I know it, but still feasible if you need to.)

Best of luck! It's so rad that you're doing actual, physical watercolor portraits. :D I can't say how long I'll lurk of these forums, but if I'm still around when you're done, I'd love to see your results!

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TBH I've kinda gotten spoiled w/ digital painting. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I love being able to adjust every little detail and easily undo/erase stuff. <3 layers. I'd say that my experience with my Wacom tablet might help make me better w/ physical media now than before, because digitally mistakes are so much easier to create, I've lost (hopefully) the habit of stressing out about little errors. I'll definitely try to share them when I'm' done, if they're not too awful. Should probably scan 'em in stages just to be safe--have a feeling I'll end up ruining at least one decent pencil sketch w/ the watercolors.

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It's been a while since I watercolor painted, but I still do a majority of my hobby art traditionally, so I'll weight in a bit:


  • Sketchbook paper probably isn't going to handle water well at all. Paper that isn't treated to take water will likely suck up all the color instantly so you can't even move it around with a brush, on top of the warping and probably falling apart. I'd say at the very least, look into some cheaper watercolor papers or mixed media paper.
  • If the ink is waterproof, you should be fine beforehand. After works just fine too.
  • Looks like Melycinya above already has that covered :)
  • If you're putting a darker color over a lighter one and don't want bleeding, wait for the layer under it to dry completely. With watercolor, sometimes it seems dry but feels cool when you touch it, which means it's not dry completely through. Once you put down a darker layer, you can soften the edge by gently going over it with a damp brush while it's still wet.
  • General advice: keep a spare piece of paper on the side to do quick tests on. Trying something for the first time on what you intend to be the finished work leads to heartbreak :p

Hope that helps a bit :)

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Definitely! Thanks for the advice.


I don't suppose y'all have any ideas about the yellow parchment background Obsidian uses? I guess I could try scanning in my watercolors and try adding some transparency effects in photoshop (though that doesn't sound particularly promising) or try adjusting the color balance to "yellow" the white paper. And maybe there's a filter I can apply that will give it that "old parchment" feel. 

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