Sunday, November 3, 2013

Marilyn Monroe Painting in Woodley Park, DC: Process Post

Someone asked me to paint the neighborhood scene of Woodley Park in Washington DC that includes a mural painting of Marilyn Monroe on one of the buildings.
I haven't seen the neighborhood in person so I found several good images on the internet to use for reference, including this one of the neighborhood and this close-up of the painting from the Library of Congress. There was another reference photo of the buildings at dusk, but for some reason I can't find it now to link, no matter what search terms I use. 

I sketched the buildings. You can see in the reference photos there is a Chipotle restaurant on the corner but I removed any reference to specific places and removed the cars. I put a man in there and he's wearing a hat and carrying a guitar case, because he's going somewhere to play his guitar!
Once I knew what the general size of the building with the face would be, I scaled down the LOC image to the size of my building sketch and printed it to use for reference, then sketched several versions to try and make it look SOMETHING like her face (depicting faces is not a strength for me because I haven't done it enough to properly learn how). Here is the series of face sketches:
This is the first and second sketch. I painted the second sketch. I was using a fairly new watercolor set (Sakura Koi field set) so I painted out all the colors to see just what I had to work with. Then I added some fine-tip Sharpie marks over it because, of course, I felt compelled to.
This is the 3rd and 4th attempt at faces. See how different #2 from above and #4 look?
 This is #5, 6 and 7. Each sketch is different - it's interesting how a few lines can really alter the facial expression.
I also did an 8th one which looked more like a monkey so I could tell I was getting tired at that point and just moved on to the painting. Here is my little Sakura Koi pocket set.
I really didn't intend to paint on the sketch, the sketch was just going to be a study, but I went ahead and added the watercolor. The paper was a high-quality drawing paper but didn't hold up well to the rubbing from the brush in some places (particularly the 'clouds'). Here is the painting before I added Sharpie lines:
And the final thing:
In an ideal world, I would make a second attempt on watercolor paper or on an aqua board. This was a good exercise and got me thinking about learning to draw faces, as well as going back to study perspective for sketching buildings. As for the Sakura Koi, I'm not as satisfied with the way the paint dries and how the paintstrokes look on the paper, as I am with my LeFranc & Bourgeois watercolor pan set, but I'm all out of the white and yellow (and nearly the red) on that one so I've had to put it aside for now - I'm desperate to find a replacement set and have even contacted the manufacturer (french) and several US importers and retail outlets to no avail...

Here is a foliage shot from today. The yellow was much more vibrant in real life.
I love the fall colors - they're in full force this weekend - reminds me of the colors of Fruity Pebbles cereal - ha!


  1. Hi Lea!
    Thanks for cheering my Monday: I tried to send a comment in the morning, but I couldn't. Very beautiful your artwork, when I read about your difficult to draw Marilyn's face, it reminded me that I gave up making fabric dolls because I was so worried that I would damage them by not being able to draw their faces properly.
    Thanks again!!

  2. Hi! Any chance you might be interested in letting the Woodley Park Community Association use this image for our cover image on our facebook page? If you would be willing to consider it, I'd love to chat!

    1. Hi Emily, you're welcome to use the image, please email me to discuss: