Eric is a friend of ours. He is also a proprietor of Space Time Tanks, a center for floatation, massage and several other relaxation and self-exploration offerings. New Age is alive and well, at least on 2526 Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. If you haven’t experienced a sensory deprivation tank, you owe it to yourself to try “a vacation in an hour” – you will be a new person without the trials, tribulations and expense of far away travels.

I tried several new things with this portrait. I have resisted stretching paper for a very long time thinking it was not worth the trouble. I was wrong. Stretched with gum tape over Gator board my paper allowed me to use as much water as I wished without warping and buckling and presenting me with a washboard surface just as I am about to work in fine details.

I tried a variegated background. For that I masked the face and hair with Frisket film, sealed it with masking fluid, and went free flying with large brushes, puddles of water, and swirling colors. Loved the freedom of it.

I also tried a different technique for hair, flooding it section by section with my highlight color, then working shadows with my shadow color, then putting in my main color. When all of this was dry I added details, individual hairs and then worked cool and warm tones as the last touch.

I tried to do folds and draping on his black shirt, but this didn’t work all too well. The shirt came out too flat for my liking. I have to think about my fabric draping some more.

8.5” x 11” (21 x 28 cm) watercolor on paper


  1. asmalltowndad February 26, 2011

    Wow! I am amazed by your portraits, the smooth transition and life like tones, are beautiful. I’m going to have to work on this and try to improve my portaits. Amazing!

    • Alex Zonis February 26, 2011

      Thank you so much, Ryan! I don’t think you need to “improve” your portraits. I am very much admire your portrait style, your latest one – Homeless – is an impressive example. The contrasts and sepia tones of his face speak volumes. Both my daughter and myself are really taken by it. Perhaps you are talking about picking up a different technique, and that makes sense – something new to try, use watercolor to paint oil-like portraits. I have to say that this technique takes time, this portrait of Eric took me 17 days of work, I started on Feb.9 and only finished today, Feb.26.

  2. Lou Agosta February 26, 2011

    The multiple micro-expressions are what I like most about this portrait. He is cheerful and smiling and grinning slightly shyly and even devilishly at the same time. Nicely done!

    • Alex Zonis February 27, 2011

      Ha! I am immensely pleased that you noticed the devilish quality there :D!!! This was exactly what I loved in Eric’s expression and wanted to portray. Thank you for the comment, oh Dear Husband!

  3. lesliepaints February 26, 2011

    Awesome, awesome, Alex! Your background works so well with the other colors and actually I think it is that background that brings out the color in Eric’s eyes. Realistic and glowing!

    • Alex Zonis February 27, 2011

      So you think the BG works there? I am not so sure… I agree that the greens of the BG accentuate his eyes, but looking at the complete painting I am thinking that perhaps a cool BG, grayish-blue variations like pre-thunder sky would’ve worked better for the warm tones of the face. As it is the whole thing is too warm, with no cools to rest one’s eyes. What do you think? And thank you for the comment, Leslie!

      • lesliepaints February 27, 2011

        Yes. I think the BG works, especially after reading what Eric does. His workplace promotes warmth for the people who go there and your warm background tells a little something of his environment. My eyes rest on his eyes, where I believe they should. I am not deterred by warmth.

        • Alex Zonis February 27, 2011

          This was exactly my thought for the BG. I wanted a New Age, psychedelic feeling :). I think I managed that, but now am having doubts about my overall color solution.

          • lesliepaints February 27, 2011

            One thing that has served me well when considering my BG’s is to make sure that I use combinations of what I have in the foreground subject or my BG’s come out ugly and unbalanced. That does not mean that I can’t introduce a new color or make new color combinations with the ones I have used in the foreground. I just have to remember to include them. Like when I make a sky for a landscape? I find somewhere else in the landscape to include some of that sky color.

          • Alex Zonis February 27, 2011

            I am with you :)! This is exactly what Kaye, my painting teacher, taught me from day 1. Even though in this portrait I made the BG first, before the face, the colors that went into it were the very washes I planned for the skin. However I could easily go cooler and grayer with them, you know how it is, it is only a matter of proportion :D.

  4. nicola (pointypix) February 27, 2011

    Your work just keeps on getting better. This is another fantastic portrait Alex. Please tell me that you have an exhibition planned or are at least getting commissions as you are a fabulous portrait artist.

    • Alex Zonis February 27, 2011

      Aw, what a nice thing to say, Nicola! As it happens, I have no shows planned and no commissions at this time :(. I have not even started working on my marketing, instead I was heads down over my paints trying to figure out my technique, style and direction. But I am starting to think about showing and selling my work. Right before your comment fell in I was looking at an art marketing book – I’d rather be in the studio by Alyson Stanfield. Have you read this one?

  5. Carol King February 27, 2011

    You have transitioned from the pencil portraits to watercolor portraits seamlessly. Now that I’ve seen your work with my own eyes, I can imagine how lovely and delicate this portrait is as well.

    I like all your new techniques. Stretching paper is always better, although sometimes I’m lazy and don’t do it. I like your hair technique too.

    Now, the background. I normally don’t say anything negative on other’s blogs and this won’t be a negative comment either because I really like your background. The greenish gold brings out Eric’s eyes and gives him that devilish look. However, my first thought was that I would have liked to see a blue or gray variegated background. Now, I don’t think you should change this one, but maybe for your next portrait?

    • Alex Zonis February 28, 2011

      I know about blog comments etiquette, it is considered a faux pas to express anything but a glowing admiration. I wish it was more acceptable to make suggestions, offer ideas and constructive critique. When I just started blogging I wished for it and was amazed that I couldn’t get it even when I asked directly. I really appreciate your thoughts on my BG here, especially since we are on the same page about it – I too think that blue-gray would’ve set his face off better. I am not planning to change this painting, but will consider BG with more precision for the next one. Thank you very much for your thoughts, Carol!

      • lesliepaints February 28, 2011

        There is some gray above Eric’s head that came from the colors running together. Would a blue gray serve to cut the head out and give that edgy look we try to tone down? Would a blue gray shirt serve the purpose that you are looking for as far as introducing some cool colors? Is it possible to work some of your foreground and work it along with your portrait, softening the edges and losing some? Your work is beautiful and the questions we all ask ourselves are these. I just think, if a background is cool and the foreground is warm, there has to be caution taken to marry the two or a piece becomes unbalanced.

        • Alex Zonis February 28, 2011

          This is an awesome list of questions, Leslie! THANK YOU! I have considered some while planning and painting, but not all. It is great to have them in this concise form to print out and consult with until I have them internalized. The blue-gray shirt would’ve solved my problem – what a great idea! Though I don’t think it is possible to lift enough black to implement it at this point. I did go over the painting and smooth edges for the face and hair, but now when I look at it again I think you are right – the edges on the top of his head can be usefully lost. Right now I have form and volume for the face and to a degree of the hair, but the whole head reads like it does not have the back. I really appreciate you taking time and writing these things for me.

  6. lindahalcombfineart March 11, 2011

    This portrait is wonderful and since I live in Indy I will keep your friend’s shop in mind. I can always use a vacation in an hour. Your technical comments were very helpful. I have used the frisket film this way and, like you, felt it gave me freedom to work boldly and loosely when painting the background. I did not even seal it…just stuck it down good around the edges. I use blocks of watercolor paper a lot because of the buckling and I have never had success stretching paper but I may try your method. I have seen it recommended but have never had this type of tape in the house. (too lazy to go get some I guess!)

    • Alex Zonis March 14, 2011

      Hi Linda! Intersting about WC paper blocks, I never had much success with that using glazing method. Too much water, I guess, and paper still buckles. Even more so for me – the lower sheets buckle too making it nearly impossible to do detailed work towards the end. This paper stretching method started to work once I got the right tape – the brown gum tape that you need to wet before attaching. It makes the paper so tight that even my Gator board bends in slightly. This method seems to produce consistent results too, I am working on another portrait using this stretching technique, and the paper is tight regarless of the amount of water. Thank you for your comment!

  7. kgear3 March 13, 2011

    I LOVE this portrait! I’ve always struggled with painting and drawing people for some reason but your technique really shines through on this one.

    • Alex Zonis March 14, 2011

      Thank you for your visit and comment, kgear3! Glad to meet you!

  8. debra March 13, 2011

    Hi Alex, amazing portrait. I think the background is perfect, subtle without being too New Agey

    • Alex Zonis March 14, 2011

      So pleased to get your comment and email, Debra! Glad you liked the portrait!

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