portrait sketches on the iPad

by | Feb 9, 2017 | Artistic Endeavors, Watercolors | 50 comments

I shared last week that I signed up for the Radiant Watercolor Portraits class offered through Jeanne Oliver’s Creative Network.  I signed up for it because I found the watercolor examples by the instructor appealing and I would like more instruction on watercolor, but I also signed up because the idea of drawing people scares the snot out of me.

Well, spiders scare the snot out of me…  Drawing a person is just reeeeeeally intimidating.

The human face is so recognizable to us that even when little nuances are off, the whole piece looks off.  …unless it’s deliberately abstract, but even then, I haven’t figured out how to determine if something is an artistic masterpiece or a amateur disaster.  Anyone else there with me?!

But, I’m never going to grow if I don’t do things that are intimidating and seem out of reach.  So, to portrait painting I go!

First of all, I’ve only watched a few of the videos and it’s been excellent.  The instructor has really broken things down, so it’s manageable and she’s been so encouraging.

One of our first assignments was to do a charcoal drawing of this stock image to practice values…

I did some blind contours first, as instructed (but you don’t need to see those), and then I started sketching in ProCreate, an art app on the iPad.  I know the assignment was charcoal, but my pencils were at the studio and the iPad was readily available.

Here is what I came up with first…

Clearly, my portrait looks nothing like the subject!  She’s maybe 20 years older and the eyes are so big they are entering Disney princess territory!  It did look like a person, though, even though the features were harsh and the nose was crooked, so I kept working on it.

I resized the eyes, fixed the nose and some shading and I felt like it was looking better…

It was still harsh and not a likeness at all of the subject, so I scrapped that sketch and started with a clean “canvas”.

This time, I used a technique the instructor, Christie, taught – face mapping.  I traced just the basic outline of the face to get everything in the proper place to get a truer likeness.  I also learned a lot about values from the first one I worked on, so I worked with a lighter hand and *tried* to draw what I actually saw and not what I imagined in my head.  And I made an effort to create with more confidence.

Here’s a “speed painting” video showing the process…

ProCreate automatically makes videos of each pencil stroke.  Isn’t that cool?

And here is the finished sketch…

The face mapping technique really took the intimidation out of portraits for me and, even after just doing two, I’m learning a lot about eye shape, typical highlights on the mouth, the curves on a nose, etc.  I think it won’t be long before I’ll be able to take away that tool and sketch completely from sight.  I mean, I’ll never be a street artist, but it would be nice to sharpen that skill.

Anyway, I decided to practice on a picture of my Oma as a child…

I love the little smirk on her face and was hoping I’d be able to capture it.  Again, I did the sketch on my iPad.  I bought it back in December to use as a tool for the design work I’ve been doing and it has been fantastic.  Such a good buy!  I definitely prefer “real painting”, but it’s an amazing tool for patterns, repeats, product design, and for sketching.  I can draw, erase, draw, erase, and repeat without smudging and tearing the paper.

I’m using the Apple Pencil, which does take a little getting used to, but it does respond to pressure and can be used like a regular pencil.  I do find it odd “painting” with it, which is why I prefer a regular brush and paper still, but for drawing, it’s great.

And here is the finished sketch of my Oma…

I might put a bit more detail on the dress, but it’s done for now.

The down side to digital drawing is that there isn’t an original.  But, that’s the next step!  I will be getting out my sketch pad and pencils for the next portrait.

And then it’s time to start adding color…

So, have you tried anything new lately?


  1. J

    Wow! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I think you are brave. I have been wanting to try watercolor painting. I paint in my head all the time while I am driving along beautiful country roads but then I don’t make time to actually sit down and paint. I know it has something to do with being a perfectionist and not allowing myself to fail. I sabotage myself by not even starting.

    BTW I’ve been lurking on your site for a long time but have never commented. Thanks for all the hard work you pour into the blog. I enjoy it so much.

  2. Donna Doble-Brown

    This is AMAZING! The picture of your Oma is just so special Marian . . . You’ve inspired me to get some watercolors and to get back to some drawing …. I might even try a portrait! ?

    • Marian Parsons

      You should! It’d funny for me, but I am finding portraits to be more natural for me than a landscape, which is what I really prefer.

  3. liz

    have you read Drawing on the right side of the brain? http://drawright.com/
    also, could you bottle some of your energy and sell us some? 🙂

    • Marian Parsons

      No, I haven’t read that, but I’ll have to check it out!

    • Kim

      I was gong to suggest that book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” it will make ANYONE be able to draw the face. It’s all just a formula that you can memorize and then automatically “see.” Believe me, I read that book and after never being able to draw anyone, I was able to do it really well.

  4. Kim

    Please darken your text. It’s hard to read.

    • Kim

      I agree, I think it needs to be darker.

      • Kimberly

        Thirded. The text is hard enough to read, but the light blue links almost appear like blank spots on the screen. I’m not that old, but my eyesight is bad. Marian, please help your readers out with this!

  5. Barbara

    The picture if your Oma is fantastic! You go girl.

  6. Betty

    The new revised look to your iwebsite is so busy with ads popping up everywhere, even in the comment box, things appearing and disappearing, it’s very frustrating and not relaxing at all to look at, I don’t come here to look at a bunch of “commercials”, you’re losing (great, now a lane bryant popup is over most of the comment box) you’re losing what we enjoyed about you, I won’t be back

  7. Betty

    By the way, what’s with the giant picture of you below the comment box?

    • Marian Parsons

      If you’re looking at it on a smart phone, you’re seeing the sidebar below the comment section, which starts with a picture of me, as the blog author. If you look at it on a desktop or iPad, it looks different.

      As far as the ads, I don’t have any more than I did before, but I think readers have grown used to seeing them on the old blog and now, with the new design, they are more noticeable.

  8. Katie

    Betty: ‘you’re losing what we enjoyed about you’

    Speak for yourself, please.

    • Michelle

      I agree with you Katie!

    • Harriett

      We all speak for ourselves. Don’t we/I/You?

  9. Diane

    Great effort = great results.
    Ur Oma portrait is well done I Think! U should be proud.
    I’m new to reading blogs so I’m not sure what others are complaining of.
    I enjoy ur blog and many others.

  10. Gail

    I like the new site and always look forward to reading it. It may be a little different but different is good sometimes. I am unable to save to Pinterest……is that function no longer available. Thanks and keep up the good work. Your honesty and helpful ideas are refreshing.

  11. Dodie Leibecke

    I am on my desktop and the text is pretty light. And I understand about the ads but they do pop up in the text of the blog and then when you try to hit the X button to get rid of them it sometimes proves to be difficult. Surely folks interested in the offering would click on them even if they were at the end of the blog, or side of the blog. Ideally any place but in the general text of the blog. Just sharing my thoughts.

  12. Marcia

    Wow! Wow! Wow! Thank you for introducing such a creative concept. You have such talent but by your encouragement, I want to give it a try. The picture you drew of your grandmother is breathtaking. By the way…I so enjoy your blog.

  13. Jessica | Petal + Ply

    Gosh, wasn’t your Oma just the cutest little thing ever!! You did an amazing job of capturing her likeness.

  14. Erin

    This was just the encouragement I needed! I am training to be a group exercise instructor this weekend and I am so intimidated. The reminder that we will never grow if we don’t do things that intimidate us was well timed. Thank you for always keeping it real.

  15. Lori

    Stunning! Your Oma, so beautiful!

  16. Carla from Kansas

    Marian, Again reading you on my smartphone. NO ADS POPPED UP for me.

    Your Oma’s picture you did is great!

  17. Libby

    Love this post as you have explained your technique so well. I took an art class using Drawing on the Right Side…And it was so helpful. Big improvement. Your drawings are terrific. Portraits are difficult but you totally aced it.

  18. Carlotta

    Marian, I know you wouldn’t be able to blog as often as you do without getting compensation. This blog takes so much of your time to write, to figure out what you’ll write about, to work on your projects that you write about, to photograph everything… Maybe some people aren’t aware that the advertisers are what support you writing your blog. I’ve learned to just scroll right past them. I’m eager to get to your next photo or article. Your drawings are amazing! You are your Oma’s twin! Keep up the good work. Carlotta

  19. Jeri

    You continue to amaze me with your talent and energy. I’m getting used to this new blog format, I really like it. Thank you for the inspiration to do those things that challenge/scare me.

  20. Vickie H.

    Why do people have to be so snippy and sharp-tongued??!!! Good grief! This is a lovely woman who writes a lovely blog. She is well within her rights to make changes here. Geez!!!

  21. Tash

    Hiya, Just wondering about technique – how were you able to “trace” for the face mapping if you’re using an iPad? I’m intrigued! You are coming along leaps and bounds with your drawing – amazing work! 🙂

    • Marian Parsons

      In the program I was using, ProCreate, you can work in “layers”, just like in Photoshop. So, I imported the picture into ProCreate and added a new, blank layer on top of it. I used that layer as my “tracing paper” and then removed the image once the outline was complete.

  22. iiio

    Hi, Great Blog, Hadn’t noticed it had been revamped till I read these comments, d’uh!

    It seems the answer to the ads everywhere problem is to use a really old browser.

    I’m on a mac from the dawn of the century and all I get is one banner advert at the top of the page. 🙂

    Keep up the creative good works…xxx

  23. Wendy Y

    Amazing! It’s so great that you keep pushing past your fears to find you really can do some of these things! (And I love the way you write about your experiences too. The Disney princess territory comment cracked me up ? So true!). I bought some Derwent watercolor pencils last year — both the Inktense and the Coloursoft kinds. I discovered that just doing the base colors, shading and highlighting on some coloring book pages has made me feel more confident to move into drawing my own objects in pen and ink and then using the pencils or brush watercolors with them. You are so brave to jump right into portraits! I love the intermediate steps you are taking and sharing with us. They turned out absolutely beautiful. And what a wonderful way to save and share the memory of your family members. ❤️ Thank you for once again inspiring us to try new things too. Blessings!

  24. Deb H.

    Your “Oma” rendering is AMAZING! Such talent you have (but we already knew that)! Keep it up sweet girl! I am IN LOVE!

  25. Maureen Ryan

    Dear Marian, I admire you so much! You are such a talent and I am watching you use all your creativity in so many directions! The Oma portrait is so good — just excellent! I love it!
    I tried a Portrait Drawing course at our local art center and was taught how to create a portrait by shading upside-down; it was a surprise — this unusual exercise came from Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
    I am going to follow in your footsteps and take an online watercolor portraiture class. Thanks for the inspiration!

  26. Tanya

    I’m doing the same class, but my first portrait is nothing like yours. The portrait of your Oma is amazing! I still have a lot to learn, but I’m really happy with my first attempt at drawing a person – my stick people used to look like animals, so anything recognizably human is an improvement for me. 😉

  27. Sandra Gumm

    Great job Marian! Your Oma’s photo is adorable. Beautiful eyes. I am trying my hand at drawing also, along with learning modern calligraphy! Practice on…
    BTW, I’m not having any problem with ad pop-ups, and I really like the clean look of your new format.

  28. Linda

    These are wonderful! I’ve been taking the class as well, with very little painting experience at all. The eyes are so hard to get right for me–I have been getting one just about right and then the other is the wrong size or tilted or whatever. Love the ones you did on your iPad!!

  29. Kimberly

    Your sketches are really well done, Marian, and the one of your Oma is just fantastic! Human faces are so hard to do, I’m very impressed with how quickly you mastered the portrait of your Oma!

  30. Betty

    Marion, I truly apologize for my post, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or start a firestorm, again, I am sorry. I was diagnosed with major depression on Wednesday, I woke up during the night and wanted to look at something on my tablet that would be soothing and relaxing to help me go back to sleep. All the popup ads, going on and off, which on my tablet, they are still doing, is very agitating and that is why I wanted to speak out, granted, not tactfully. Again, I am sorry. For those of you who have never experienced going through major depression, congratulations.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, Betty, thanks so much for your apology. I think it’s pretty rare these days for someone to apologize in a public forum like this. I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis and really hope you’re getting some great support, encouragement, and treatment to pull you out of the depression. I do hope my blog can be an inspirational and relaxing place for you to visit. 🙂 All the best to you, Betty.

  31. Sharon

    Hi Marian,
    Yours is the only blog I subscribe to for inspiration, ideas and frankly the courage to branch out. I agree with others that you would enjoy Betty Edwards’ book. Thanks for sharing your gifts

  32. Sheila

    Am I the only one who noticed the remarkable resemblance of the portrait of Marian’s grandma? as a child and Marian herself?

  33. Kenda

    Hi Marian! I have always looked forward to reading your articles, but the pop up ads are taking away from the content. Others have written as well, and have brought it to your attention. I’ve had issues in the past, but most recently they have become much worse. I don’t know if there is an answer. I hope so! Thank you for your consideration!

  34. Miss Mustard Seed

    Kenda, What kind of device are you viewing my blog on? I am not supposed to have any pop-up ads on my site. I do have ads within the content on the mobile version and on desktops and tablets, there is an ad at the bottom of the screen that you can X out of, but there shouldn’t be anything popping up in the middle of your screen, covering the content.

  35. Carine13


    I’m in Switzerland 🙂
    At you blog and really I am DIY fan and creaction. BRAVO!
    I would like a question for Ipad drawing on the superb face but what the application ithune program thank you.
    Excuse me I’m not a good English speaker. And also I’m deaf 😉
    I wish you a good continuous …. and beautiful day.

    • Marian Parsons

      Well, hello to Switzerland! I grew up in Germany and went to Switzerland several times for ski trips and family vacations to Beatenberg and Salzberg. It’s so beautiful there! Anyway, the app I was using from iTunes is called ProCreate and it’s about $5.00 US dollars. It’s a great drawing/art program.

      • Carine13

        Ah Super! Yes, it is really the famous ski in Switzerland :-). Thanks i will try the iTunes app. Good continuous manual work 😉

  36. Ginni

    Marian- Well done! Your drawing of your Oma is beautiful and delicate – and it captures her so beautifully! I am so impressed. And your Oma is so cute! You are blessed with a gift for all to enjoy. I cannot wait to see you draw your boys. Have a happy St. Valentine’s Day!

  37. Cindy Keller

    The portrait on your Oma is truly beautiful – maybe, you need someone else to tell you just how talented you are! I like it…truly. My daughter started to develop this gift and it took me by surprise when I saw her artwork. Now, I tell her to save all her sketches. It is such a gift to have. Hopefully, you will share more of your sketches Marian.

  38. Anna

    I love that you posted the entire (imperfect) process! It shows how dedicated you are to inspiring your readers. Your final results are amazing. Thank you!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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