Number 5: Illustrated Portrait Step-by-Step

One of my latest illustrations is a portrait of Albert Pujols, who plays first base for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim MLB team. I referenced a photo I captured of the ballplayer between plays during a game versus the Mariners in 2015. Instead of an action shot, it’s a relaxed and contemplative pose, which appealed to me as a subject.

This is my source photo, unedited:


Number 5 source photo by Alvalyn Lundgren


My painting process

I developed the illustration in watercolor and gouache on paper, with some final details using colored pencils. This is my step-by-step development of the painting from sketchbook concept to finished work.

The rough concept layout in my sketchbook:



The finished line drawing at full size, transferred onto stretched Fabriano Artistico paper:



The paper is 100# cotton. I soak it for about 10 minutes, let excess water run off, and stretch it on a pine board using thumbtacks. I let it dry overnight and then create the drawing.

The first lay-in of transparent watercolor washes:



Defining light and shadow shapes to reveal form:



Here I pay attention to light logic, looking for form and core shadows, areas reflected light, and cast shadows.

My go-to color mix for light skin is a mixture of Naples yellow and orange lake deep. With transparent watercolor, the paper provides the white. I adjust from warm to cool  and light to dark by adding various amounts of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, alizarin crimson sap green and pthalo blue. I mostly use Winsor Newton brand watercolor and gouache.

First lay-in of the background underpainting. Here I’m using cool hues to help create more separation between the warm hues on the figure and the ground. I have some circles going on which relate to the seams in a baseball, and also help to frame the head and hand.



The background is overpainted with gouache. I’m keeping the brush strokes loose and using high key tints of blues and violet. I added a pop of yellow along the seam lines. The background washes influence the gouache layers.



I build up light and shadow in the jersey and ball cap, and continue to flesh out the skin tones. From here I continue to add detail as I refine the painting to a finished state.



This is the finished work, signed and ready to be photographed.



All images are © 2017 Alvalyn Lundgren.  All rights reserved. To purchase an image license, please contact me with your request.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.