Israel for me starts with Meyer. His is the face I see first when I arrive. For several years now he meets me in Ben Gurion International and takes me home. Meyer is a taxi driver.

I bet you don’t have a private taxi driver, do you? Well, I don’t either, but my parents do. About 10 years ago my parents got into Meyer’s cab by chance, and they liked each other all the way around. And what’s not to like – Meyer has a sunny disposition, amazing energy, a wonderful warm manner and a dickens sense of humor. From that day on my parents rarely called a general taxi line, they call Meyer. And when the airport and the roads got rebuilt and became as complicated as Rubik’s Cube, it became too hard for them to drive to the airport. So Meyer comes and gets me instead. Every year I look forward to seeing him.

9″ x 11.5″ (22 x 29 cm) watercolor on paper

The background

Several people wrote to me via comments here and email asking about the technique for background in this portrait. So I am adding this description. I used splattering technique, I read about it in a couple of watercolor books. I wanted to try it here because I wanted a sense of desert to connect Meyer to his country. Israel is 70% desert, and even though I took this reference in a lush and green little park where my parents live I thought that the connection was called for.

I started with overall light wash of Aureolin (PY40) covering the entire sheet, the face, shirt and BG. Then I put a wash of Yellow Ochre (PY43)  covering the BG but also bleeding into skin and hair. I use Daniel Smith colors, and Daniel Smith Yellow Ochre is the most sumptuous Yellow Ochre I have seen. Then I developed the face and shirt almost to completion but not quite. I made a mask for the face and body from a piece of tracing paper and attached it loosely in 3 or 4 places with dots of masking fluid. Having placed the painting horizontally I covered the outer portions of my board with newspaper (you don’t have to do this, I am just anal-retentive like that.) Then the fun began.

I prepared five cups of concentrated paint making it a consistency of heavy cream. I used the same colors as I used in the painting for the skin and shirt in hope to unify the painting and achieve color harmony. I actually put a bit more thought into choosing my BG colors and they were all natural Earths – siennas, umbers and ferrites. I tested my toothbrush and colors on a scrap paper to figure out the size of my droplets and their trajectory. When I liked what I saw on a scrape paper I started on the actual painting. I splattered one color at a time and let colors dry for various times, a little or a lot, without much thought or plan. I wanted to achieve a controlled randomness (now that’s an oxymoron!) Then I checked the tone and decided it was too warm, so I added some Manganese Blue (PB15) splatter, also a natural mineral color and a color from his shirt, which was not in the prepared set of 5. Waited until everything was bone dry and lifted the mask.

I saw that some splatter got onto the face, so I lifted that and cleaned it up. In another small area my mask covered too much and there was a bald spot, so I added spots of needed colors with a brush imitating splatter.

Then I finished the face that needed more punch now that the BG got darker, painted flyaway hair and details on the glasses. Done.


  1. Carol King May 18, 2011

    Meyer looks gentle and happy. His eyes and smile make me feel welcome. I love the color palette you used. His skin tone is fantastic and it works so well with the blue in his shirt and the background. Which I just love. Great painting.

    • Alex Zonis May 18, 2011

      Thank you, Carol! This background was a new experimentation, I tried splattering using a toothbrush and concentrated paint with an idea of creating a feel of a desert. Used same hues as the face and shirt in hope for color harmony. I was pleasantly surprised with an unexpected texture contrast that resulted – the smoothness of the skin and graininess of the BG. A new type of contrast for me, learned something new for the future :D!

  2. pointypix May 19, 2011

    oh Alex this is incredible! I swear each painting gets more stunning and considering they’re all fantastic to begin with, that takes some doing! how did you do the background-i love the effect?

    • Alex Zonis May 19, 2011

      So glad you liked it, Nicola! I appreciate you mentioning progress, it is good to hear it from someone else. I thought I see changes in my work, but it is hard to be objective when I am so close to the paint surface. A couple of other people asked about the splattering technique for BG, so I have written out what I did in the body of the post. This was my first experiment with it. But please ask if something is unclear in my description.

  3. Amanda May 19, 2011

    positively gorgeous work

    • Alex Zonis May 19, 2011

      Thank you, Amanda! So glad you visited here! I liked your blog, have visited and read some posts. Will be visiting more in the future.

  4. lesliepaints May 19, 2011

    Mouth gaping open staring at this portrait, Alex. My goodness. The five o’clock shadow. How did you do that under his nose and around his chin. Mine would appear all run together, not granulated so nicely. Skin tones are superb! I love the blues you are achieving. I read in the comment about the toothbrush flicking. Have done that before but not as beautifully as you have managed here. The gray flecks of hair and the glasses lens are both pluses that give this portrait “ZING!”. You rock, girl! I mean that with all sincerity!

    • Alex Zonis May 19, 2011

      Wow! What a great compliment! Thank you, Leslie! I think that granulation in the 5 o’clock shadow is a result of pointillistic masking I did on the chin. I also tried a new color in these areas – Terre Verte (PG18 PBr7) – that I learned about reading on oil portrait painting. There is very little published on portraiture in watercolor, so I supplement my reading with oil portraiture books. I pick up tips and techniques for oil and try to translate them into watercolor. Apparently Terre Verte is a staple on an oil portrait palette, but I never heard of it mentioned in watercolor books. Anyway, Terre Verte WC granulates a little, which is useful for skin texture. I think a trick of having colors stop where you want them is applying one glaze at a time, shape it with a thirsty brush and let dry. I was never able to control two colors running freely on wet paper. Not in a million years :D.

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