painting a watercolor car portrait for my husband's birthday gift

A Watercolor Car Portrait for David

In 2018, I decided to teach myself to draw and paint. I practiced drawing every day as part of the 100 day project and shared the posts on Instagram as #100daysofdrawandplay. One of my proudest paintings came toward the end of the project (of course), when I felt that I was ready to tackle something big: a portrait of my first car (whose name was Car).

I framed my car painting, and it’s currently on the wall of our entryway, next to where we keep our keys. I love having it there. It’s in a simple, square white frame, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to expand the collection. I had the idea to paint David’s car for him ages ago, but it wasn’t until his birthday month arrived that I decided to finally go for it.

watercolor painting of a red convertible
almost done… can you find what’s missing?
miami convertible view of palm trees
I mean, can you blame him?

Meet Scoot. Formally known as a Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, Scoot is David’s Miami-mobile. When we finalized our plans to move to the land of palm trees and sunshine, David decided that his Florida lifestyle couldn’t be confined by things like “roofs”. A few years without winter mean this is the ideal time to own a convertible, and David loves this car. He drives with the roof down every trip, settling for coverage only during hurricane downpours or traffic jams in summer sun. So I knew he’d love an homage to Scoot.

When I made my first car portrait, I learned that painting a car is challenging in many ways. The body lines, shadows, highlights, reflections – cars are such an inorganic object and so purposefully designed that tiny flaws in the drawing or painting are extremely noticeable. The slightest difference in angle can make the car look wonky, and something just looks “off”. My 2018 drawing of Car took HOURS, but that was all part of the exercise – I was training my brain to draw and, more importantly, to see. I’m really proud of that drawing because I remember how challenging it was. But this time, I was just making a painting, not giving my brain a workout.

So I cheated. I printed a photo of the car, and transferred the outlines of the image by covering the back of the printout with graphite, then tracing the car on the front side. This saved me a lot of time and a lot of error, but honestly? It wasn’t cheating at all. There was still so much “artistic work” involved to make this painting, especially fine tuning all the various shadows and subtle color shifts, and I know that tracing made me no less of an artist. I started this habit with the wedding watercolor for my brother and sister-in-law, and it’s a trick I expect I’ll continue to use.

The painting took many focused hours, stretched over about a week. It’s hard to hide a watercolor because you don’t want to disturb it while it’s wet! But I managed to keep the secret safe.

watercolor painting of a fiat 124 spider abarth

I put the painting in a white, square frame to match my original painting of Car, and gave it to David for his birthday. It was actually David’s idea to add the black mat and it is the perfect artistic touch.

watercolor car portrait as husband birthday gift

I was not the only one who thought to give David a car-related present… it was fun that both his parents and his (new!) in-laws gifted him car themed items as well!

watercolor car portrait as husband birthday gift

I added a matching mat to my existing portrait, and now they make a lovely pair that will soon be hanging together in the entryway. It’s also fun for me to see how my skills have developed. I still love my first car painting, but it’s clear that I’ve become a better painter and artist in the three years since then. It’s hard to remember, but so much of this skill is just about practice.

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