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In David Lobenberg's California Vibe workshop, you will learn watercolor portraiture that goes beyond the norm with super expressive paint applications and wildly intense colors.

This will be accomplished by:

1. learning how to take dramatic, stylistic photographs with a camera, smart phone, or computer pad

2. learning a simple technique to trace contour outlines from your photographs that can be easily transferred to any size of watercolor paper

3. learning to economically and with minimal brush strokes, render head structure and facial features

4. working with a minimal color palette and the four basic water/pigment consistencies to render strong value contrasts, subtle tints, and intense hues

5. painting 1/8 sheet (5 ½ by 7 ½ inch) “pochades” (a French word for a small painting), to quickly explore both paint application techniques and expressive color combinations.

6. using your pochade(s) as a guide to paint your final California Vibe, beyond-the-norm, portrait(s)

Depending on the duration of the workshop (a minimum of three to a maximum of five days), these six successive steps will be mastered and practiced.

Towards the end of the period, you’ll have the wherewith-all to follow your own path towards California Vibe watercolor portraiture!


California Vibe Watercolor Portraiture Supply list


Student or professional grade (I highly recommend using professional watercolors) tube watercolor paint such as Schminke, Holbein, Winsor Newton, Da Vinci, etc.


Payne’s Gray (Winsor Newton preferably)

Red: a bright lipstick red such as Opera (I LOVE this color!) or Permanent Rose 

Alizarin or Crimson Red

Cadmium Yellow and or Cad.Yellow Light (also Azo and Bismuth yellows are some killer translucent, warm yellows that I like but not totally necessary if you just want to stick with the cads.)

Yellow Ochre

Raw Sienna

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Umber

Ultramarine blue

Cobalt Blue

Phthalo Blue (or Peacock Blue)

Cirulean Blue

Tourqoise Blue Light

plus any other bright colors that you would want to throw into this mix!


A #12 or #16 round watercolor brush that comes to a beautiful, tapered point. I suggest a combination natural and synthetic hair.

Don't go too cheap!...this size brush is a real workhorse, and is the one you will paint with the most.

A small # 6 round watercolor brush.

A 1/4 inch, flat watercolor brush.

A Hake brush or 3 to 4 inch flat watercolor brush (any other brushes that you’d like to throw into the mix will be fine).

Other Supplies

A soft graphite drawing pencil (can simply be a soft Ticonderoga office pencil).

About 4 sheets of 140lb (22 by 30 inches). Arches (or any other Professional grade – I like Fabriano and Arches extra white) cold press watercolor paper (NOT cold press rough!). We will be mostly painting on one eight (5 ½ x 7 ½ inches) and quarter sheets (11 by 15 inches). We can cut them (I’ll show you my easy method) at the workshop.

A good size rectangular plastic palette with paint wells around the outside and a good size mixing area in the inside. The palette should measure about 10 by16 inches. There are various manufactures of these palettes, but they are all around this size and configuration.

Half to one-inch wide 3M blue painter’s tape or masking tape that can keep out water but will not harm the watercolor paper when pulled off.

One box of Original Mr. Clean Magic Erasers (all white). I will have some extra ones if you have difficulty procuring these. This product can be found in the cleaning section of most supermarkets or at Home Depot or other hardware stores that have cleaning products.

One 11 by 14 inch or so tracing paper pad.

A roll of absorbent kitchen paper towels, absorbent cloth or sponge to soak up extra water on the brush.

Something to hold about a liter or so of water. I LOVE the Mijello brand two liter bucket. You can find them online or at most major art supply stores.

Prismacolor drawing pencils. This is a set of twelve colored pencils. If you want to add a few more colors, you may.

Bring these colored ones:

a warm red like Scarlet Red 922

a cool red like Crimson Red 924,

a basic warm yellow like Canary Yellow 916

a basic grass green like True Green 910

Flesh 939

a lavender like Lavender 934

a blue like True Blue 903

a purple like Purple 931

a dark brown like Dark Brown 946

a warm brown like Sienna Brown 945

a white like White 938

a black pencil.

We will be tracing with the use of windows and daylight, but you can also use carbon paper. I suggest Saral brand black carbon paper.  It comes in a roll.

THE “DON’T do this AND THE DO this”


One of the keys for painting a successful California Vibe Watercolor Portrait™ is to have a very dramatic Portrait reference photo to work from. Here are two photographs that represent the DON’T do this and the DO this. I used my smart phone to take them. The photo on the left was taken in a flat, non-dramatic lighting situation and with a time- worn “Say cheese” pose. As well, the composition is terribly boring.

This all adds up to a big, fat DON’T do this. The second photo has very dramatic shading across the face and an expressive pose with an imposing in-your-face attitude. This all works as a strong California Vibe DO this reference photograph.  Please repeat after me and write on the blackboard one hundred times: “I need to take eye-grabbing DO this reference photographs from the get go, before I apply paint to paper!”

Here’s a tip: Make a black and white photocopy of your subject. Why? Because as you paint, you are not affected by natural colors and are free to invent an expressive palette of California Vibe colors.


1. Tape a sheet of see-through tracing paper or vellum over your reference photograph (a minimum size photograph of 8 by 10 inches or larger).

2. With a soft office pencil, trace head, features, and shadow areas. Don’t over do the tracing . . . rely on your eyeballs to see the more subtle details during the painting process.

3. Reduce or enlarge the tracing in a plain paper copy machine. Make two copies each: two for your thumbnail study size and  two for your 11 x15 inch final painting size. Your subject should fill most of the painting area on your 140 lb. cold press professional-grade, watercolor paper 11 X 7 1/2 (inch oriented vertically) thumbnail sheet and the 11 by 15 inch (oriented vertically) final quarter sheet. Use a commercial copy service that can print on large sheets of 11 by 17 inch paper to make copies that will be large enough to fill up most of the quarter sheet. Concentrate and focus your composition on the subject’s head. Some of the head and hair can bleed off the sides of the paper if you want to get in real close to the face.

This is optional, of course.

4. Take one of the plain paper copies and tape it to a window during daylight hours (if you have a light table, you can work at night as well).

5. Tape your quarter sheet of watercolor paper on top, and with a soft office pencil, trace out the subject (you will be able to easily see the tracing right through the watercolor paper).

Press on the pencil hard enough to easily see the lines but try not to make your tracing lines too dark.

6. On the second plain paper copy, use your pencil to shade in the face. This shading study will help familiarize your self with the value pattern across the face of the subject and will act as a painting guide.

7. With your photographic reference, plain paper pencil shading study, and final tracing on the quarter sheet, you are now ready to create a California Vibe portrait!

This is an example of a tracing from a California Vibe photo that has been shaded with a soft office pencil. This serves as a way to familiarize yourself with the value pattern on the face as well as serving as a “blueprint”, if you will, for the your watercolor painting.



 Cloudcroft Art Workshops, LLC
P.O.Box 1202
Cloudcroft, NM 88317