Basic Steps for Portrait Oil Painting

Basic steps for portrait oil painting are mainly for beginners, students, or amateurs. There is no fix method or best formula in learning portrait oil painting. Eventually one have to find the method that suits their ability and temperament.

In general, most of the effort is spent on developing of portrait painting from the beginning. It is also the most time consuming, and require lots of patience. Student who has an eagerness to get into “painting the person”, often realize that certain area should be corrected earlier, than to continue adding ‘errors’ by painting over it. Every stroke, every passage, must be carefully thought out and calculated to contribute to the total painting. Not for the reason of just filling up oil color, but with a justified purpose. The key focus in portrait painting should have more controlled, methodical way of building up to the final effect. The steps listed below will help a beginner to identify mistakes when there are easiest to correct in the early stage.

1) Designing The Canvas

Create a casual appearance by sketch at the beginning of the painting. This is the most crucial part of laying first foundation. Consider and estimate the positioning of hands, shoulder line, placement of the head, and its size, etc. It is much easier to erase those light charcoal lines than wiping oil color.

Having the importance at this stage, to attained a good drawing should be focusing on design and keeping the entire portrait in proportion. Detail is added toward the end of the stage.

Since this is the beginning, no painting were to start off, therefore, to maintain ease of correcting mistake, soft vine charcoal is recommended. It can be wipe off easily with a cloth if one decided to change. Once the entire sketch is done, continue to dust down the charcoal and re-establish the line with light earth color – yellow ochre. Light color is chosen, so that any changes can be replace by another darker earth color, that will show up clearly over the first sketch.

The overall duration of this designing stage usually take up about first half hour. Correction are not a major problem yet because painting has not started.

2) Establishing The Value Range

There are three basic elements used in the construction of a painting: line, value, and color. At this point, the line, or drawing stage should be completed so that the other two, value and color, can be taken simultaneously. Common mistake by student at this stage is to concentrate on the light area first, which is the easiest, interesting and attractive areas. Another cause is that most student don’t know what “color” to mix when they really should be focusing their attention on values. It is impossible, however, to establish the correct value of a light area on a white canvas, because there is no other values with which to compare.

To overcome this, student should practice comparative analysis: that is every value is accurately determined and painted in relation to the lightest light and darkest dark of the entire subject, including the background. The bare canvas represents the lightest light possible, and so I must begin by painting the darkest darks. Such as the hair or the black suit of the portrait figure.

3) Overpainting and Refining

At this stage, the painting should be roughed in and most of the bare white canvas eliminated. The subsequent stage is overpainting; refining by building up painting to take shape slowly. Student should give sufficient time for the first layer to dry, before the next layer is applied.

In order to paint portraits, one must be able to mix any color that one see before oneself, including the many variations of flesh tomes. There is no specific formulas, but rather picking skill through experience. Observe the colors in the face and mix them as accurately as possible. To grasp a basic understanding about three qualities of color, you may click here.

4) Pulling It All Together

Nothing is more important than the face of a portrait, while maintaining other areas to keep it all together. Start to focus detail on other areas such as the hair, hat, scarf, her blouse or his suit. Work on the long hair, it may look monotonous if all looks black, thus, by adding colors with different value is good to create liveliness. Add or change by refining values and color of the black suit, such as area of the cloth folds in elbows or shoulder.

Repaint the background with dashes of brushstrokes that will best complement the figure. It also helps to make the portrait more ‘stand out’ and with liveliness. Student may incorporate the remainder of the value and color adjustments as one feels are necessary to bring the portrait painting into the most perfect balance. It is a stage, much to do with how an artist feel it should look, or add and minor change.

5) The Final Adjustment

This is the stage where one resolve the details and making any final adjustment necessary to bring the color and value relationships to the best resolution possible. It is the most critical phase of refinement. The paint stroke gets smaller as on refine the face features, or the hands. Paintings should not become hash, slick or “edgy”. Certain area that one feel should not stand out too much, will be loosely rendered and less refinement. Such as the pattern of the tie a man is wearing, or the designed bracelet worn at the wrist of a woman. This way, the portrait will be view with a ‘togetherness’ as a painting, rather than one-sided focus with lots of detail on the tie or the bracelet.

Re-visit the background, to see if repainting is required. At times, it helps to bring the value of relationship closer to that of the figure in some area and accentuating the contrast in others. At this final stage, student should rely on what he/she feels is the best solution aesthetically.

The beginning is always the essential steps, where a good foundation is laid. It is much to do with technique in design, proportioning and doing major change where there are mistakes. It is painstaking and requires lots of patience. Once student has mastered this fundamental, what is left at the final stage is more to do with their feelings. On determining the color value, contrasting, intensity, detailing and to accomplishing the entire portrait painting with a wholeness. Accuracy of drawing and painting will take a student most of the way, but to be more adequate, one will need sensitivity of feeling and confident grasp of what goes to make the of portrait oil painting as an entirety.