Painting portraits with acrylics can be frustrating.
It can seem that you’re facing an uphill struggle.
After the pleasure of not getting headaches from toxic turpentine and being able to paint with thick impasto marks there seems to be double payback for daring to tackle a portrait with acrylics.
Not only do the colours appear unsophisticated and garish but the paint dries too quickly to blend together successfully, especially when you’re trying to mix subtle skin tones.
You can be left feeling disappointed with your results, admit defeat and crack out the thinners for another go with the Oils.
I’ve been working on a new portrait course, that can help develop your portrait skills and dramatically shorten your learning curve to achieving classical looking portraits with acrylics…
Taking you from Rookie to Rembrandt
It is something that I would have loved when I was first starting to paint portraits with acrylics.
I’d always painted with Oils through art college and had used full strength turpentine – safe in the knowledge my fellow students were cool with the fumes and I had the luxury of time to wait for the Oil paint layers to dry (perfect time for a few pints down the pub!)
However, when the relaxing days of college ended, I found myself painting in a small studio at the front of a teapot factory that was open to the public and mounting bills to pay…now the 6 month drying time of Oils didn’t seem so attractive!
Plan B – a crash course in acrylics.
So I knew how to structure an Oil painting but translating that knowledge to acrylics, to make them look like Oils – wasn’t easy.
The paint tube names were different to the historical colours I’d used with Oils and they all seemed to be a lot brighter in saturation as well.
The acrylics seemed to dry so quickly – I didn’t have time to alter the shapes on the canvas and the edges of my brushstrokes were just too severe.
On top of that, there was a colour shift in the drying time of the paints, that kept on putting my mixes out.
I tried painting really thick …. then really thin and I did produce a lot of acrylic portraits, some award-winning but the subtleties of tone and smokiness of the Old Masters still alluded me.
I needed to change direction, think around the problem and comeback with a new approach.
The Royal Seal of Approval
So how the paintings turn out?
I had my portraits exhibited at the Mall Galleries in London, became a finalist in the Artists & Illustrators Portrait Artist of the Year and then I received the letter.
You know the ones you don’t really think exist. It was a letter wax sealed with a Royal Crest.
Had I been asked to paint the Queen?
Not quite but for me the prize was even better.
I’d been awarded a Queen Elizabeth Craft Scholarship to study Classical Portraiture in Florence, Italy.
I could finally put all the pieces of historical information I’d put together myself, into an order that worked for me.
It changed the way I painted and cemented my existing practice.
I developed a method that enabled me to get consistently natural skin tones, keep the paint wet whilst using the minimum amount of colours.
Mixing natural skin tones with Acrylics that look like Oils
The main problem with acrylics is they dry too quickly. You don’t enough ‘blending time’ to create smooth subtle transitions.
But what if you did 80% of your mixing before you even picked up your brush?
If you just mix your portrait with the colours straight from the tube, you’re missing a trick.
Subtle mixes, scumbling and glazing effects can all be easily achieved with acrylics if you have the right approach.
I’ve found taking techniques and colour palettes from the past Masters and combining them with the qualities and properties of acrylics, can turn the ‘disadvantages’ of acrylics into your advantage.
You can learn more and join the Acrylic Portrait Course by just clicking this link.