Studying Holbein’s Portrait Drawings: A Brief Encounter

Detail, Mary Zouch, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, Pen and Ink c.1532-43, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

I was in London last month to catch the Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt exhibition, held at the National Portrait Gallery until 22 October 2017.

I was particularly interested in studying the collection of portrait drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger on loan from the Queen’s Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.
I’ve always admired Holbein’s oil portraits at the National Gallery London and the Uffizi Gallery, Florence but only ever seen images of some of his drawings in books.

The exhibition room was quite small, the lights low with very few other visitors and it really felt such a privilege to view these drawings in such an intimate space.

The walls were painted a dark Prussian Blue and many of the Holbein drawings were on a muted pink ground hung side-by-side in a line. They were all relatively the same size and the first thing I noticed as my eye jumped across them, was the variety of silhouette shapes created by the headwear and angle of the pose gave a real sense of the sitter.

You can’t help your mind wandering back to the Tudor Court of Henry VIII and wondering about the characters in the portraits (and for the fans of ‘Wolf Hall’ I have to admit, I was silently humming the theme tune)

They felt so fresh with some of the contour lines reminding me of a Singer Sargent’s portrait, it’s pretty amazing to see how contemporary these drawings looked considering they were drawn over 400 years ago.

An Unidentified Woman, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, Pen and Ink c.1532-43, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

An Unidentified Woman, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, c. 1526 – c. 1528 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Early Life

Hans Holbein The Younger (c. 1497 – 1543) was a German artist with great versatility. He was a skillful draftsman, printmaker and jewellery designer, although he was best known as a painter and widely considered one of the finest portraitists of his era.

Born in Augsburg, Germany, Holbein travelled to England in 1526 after having had a successful career in Basel, Switzerland.

His first portraits were of the German merchants housed in the Steelyard in London and his circle of clients quickly expanded to nobility and later became the Court Painter to Henry VIII.

He was a natural talent and turned his fluid line to designs ranging from intricate jewellery to large-scale frescoes but he also had a great teacher.

His dad.

The Father Figure

His father, Hans Holbein the Elder was also a painter and ran an art and craft studio in Augsburg taking on commissions ranging from illustrated books, woodcuts, printmaking and church window designs. His two sons, Ambrosius and Hans, worked and developed their craft under his tutelage.

His sons, Ambrosius and Hans Holbein, Hans Holbein the Elder, Silverpoint on white-coated paper, Pen and Ink, 1511

The names “Prosy” (left) and “Hans” (right) are written over the heads of the two figures, and you can see where Hans Holbein the Younger developed his style of portraiture with strong contours.

The Royal Painter

It is not known exactly when Hans Holbein began working for the King of England, but it is thought to be around 1536 and is considered the artist who brought the Tudor age to life.

His full-length portrait of Henry VIII has influenced our image and perception, establishing that iconic, powerful image of the King.

Portrait of Henry VIII, Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, Oil on Canvas, 1537-47, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

This portrait is a copy of a scene painted on the Whitehall Mural, created by Hans Holbein in 1537, the mural was destroyed by fire in the 17th century, but several copies of the section showing Henry VIII survive, of which this is probably the best.

In addition, Holbein was often sent to Europe to sketch realist portraits of potential brides for Henry due to his accurate rendering of faces.

Within the Royal Collection, there is a series of drawings connected to the Court of Henry completed by Holbein between 1526-43. The majority of these are kept in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

They were, at some stage, bound into an album often referred to as the ‘Great Booke’ interestingly, there is a very pale pink-coloured line around the outer edges of most of the Windsor drawings, which could indicate the remains of a border used in the books binding.

A Mixed Media Approach

An Unidentified Woman, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Holbein tended to capture the face of the sitter, leaving more sketchy abstracted lines for the clothes in most of his drawings. He also changed mediums depending on the part of the portrait he was sketching. It is thought that he started the portraits using red chalk, then moved onto subtle shading for the contours of the face, a fine line of coloured chalk for the features and then finally a dark black ink for flat blocks of tone on the hats.

This changing of mediums creates a much more complex rendering of the face whilst still ‘reading’ from across a room due to the darker handling of key features.


Detail, Portrait of a Scholar or Cleric, Hans Holbein the Younger (not in exhibition)

The close-up above shows how soft the rendering is on the outer edges of the lips, with the cooler grey being used in the form of the lips at the edge of the mouth and then a crisp, dark contour to describe the shape.

There is many a lively debate as to why some of the darker black chalks are much more prominent than the soft, warm chalks. Some believe that the red chalk has been smudged and faded over time, while others believe that the black chalk was added at a later date.

An Unidentified Man, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, Pen and Ink c.1535, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Pink Prepared Paper

The other key technique that Holbein utilised was working on a coloured ground.

Using a pinkish-coloured ground gave a great base for portrait sketches. The added grey of chalk worked in the shadows – like the grey used in a grisaille. The pinks were created by mixing Calcium Carbonate (chalk) mixed with a Vermillion Red pigment.

Mary Zouch, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, Pen and Ink c.1532-43, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Holbein would have had a range of pre-prepared drawing papers and selected the tone depending on the complexion of the sitter. Much like Turner, who prepared a range of coloured grounds before going out landscape sketching, Holbein used the method as a time-saving technique to quickly establish a likeness. It has been studied that the colour accuracy of people’s faces can be as important as the drawing to recognise the sitter.

 John More, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks c.1526-7, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

An Unidentified Man, Hans Holbein The Younger, Black and Coloured Chalks, White Bodycolour (Gouache), Pen and Ink, Metalpoint c.1535, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

You can see Holbein wasn’t scared of adding a touch of watercolour to further enhance the portrait and push the value range.

In this drawing, there is a semi-opaque white watercolour on the shirt and a blush of blue watercolour (gouache – often called bodycolour) in the eyes. It’s amazing how we read the face as being flesh-coloured because of this inclusion of the warmth of the beard and the blue in the eyes, remember, portrait colours are never viewed in isolation.

Silhouette Shape for Portrait Painters

If you’re composing a portrait painting yourself, looking at the spaces around the Holbein portraits can be a valuable lesson in the importance of clothing.

They can really describe the character and nature of the sitter and help to create an interesting composition. In this case, it’s hats and headdresses which give interest and enables a range of shapes and colours as well, allowing looser handling of the drawing.

When we focus on the shape around the head, it shows the symmetry of the composition but also the smooth curved flowing lines. The top of the hat is a semi-circle, the collar has a curved edge and the puffed sleeves, just leaving the frame, echo this circular motif.

In this figure, Holbein has posed the sitter in more of a ‘power pose’. Because of this, the negative shape is more angular. A sharper edge to the hat on the top right, a crisp v-shape to the collar and an angular shape to the sitters’ sleeve.

Metalpoint & Silverpoint Drawing

Detail, Lady Audley, Hans Holbein the Younger, Black and Coloured chalks, Pen & Ink, Metalpoint (not on display in exhibition) Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The fine line of the jewellery in the drawing above is achieved using a method called silverpoint, and within the Encounter exhibition, a number of works from other artists use this technique.

Silverpoint is drawing with a stylus of silver onto a prepared, primed surface (it won’t make a mark on ordinary paper). A traditional ground for silverpoint would have been a coloured rabbit skin glue solution using bone ash, chalk and/or lead white. The chalk or pigment gives a slight texture (known as a tooth) to the ground, so the metal transfers onto the surface.

Why does silverpoint look brown? The wonders of oxidation.

The first marks you make with silverpoint do look grey, but as the lines are exposed to the atmosphere, they tarnish to a warm brown tone. This process can develop over several months, and oxidation speed depends on the air quality to which the drawing is exposed. Also, different metal points will oxidize to different colours. Copper, for example, turns slightly green.

Before Graphite was used in pencils, drawings were created using a range of soft metal rods, mainly lead, tin and silver. All of the metals worked in a fine point, so you’ll see the lead point, lead-tin point, silverpoint and gold point drawings, depending on the metal that was used.

Pro tip: Lead is softer than silver, so makes a mark without having to prepare the surface. The downside of the softness of lead is that it can easily blunt, so mixes between lead and tin were made to create a balance between soft and hard points. This is much the same as modern pencils, which are a varying combination of graphite and clay to create a range of hardness or softness (9H through to 9B, the H stands for Hard, and the B stands for Black)

To Create a Modern Silverpoint Ground

Paint the ground onto an absorbent surface. You need the paper to have a bit of weight, so you don’t get any buckling.

You can use a thick watercolour paper, about 300gsm in weight. Using Hot Pressed paper will give you a smoother surface to create a fine line drawing with silverpoint. Archers, Saunders Waterford or Fabriano Artistico is nice, but you can also purchase pre-prepared metal point papers ready for drawing onto. Or you could use an illustration board. Strathmore 500 series Illustration Board is good.

To learn more about toned grounds and working with chalks, the Drawing: Light & Shadow Course introduces a variety of mediums and techniques.

When does the exhibition finish?

The show is on at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from July 13th until October 22nd 2017.

There are several other drawings, including a Rembrandt sheet of head studies and a Leonardo da Vinci anatomical study, but for me, Holbein was the show’s star.

p.s. If you’ve studied the Acrylic Portrait Course and happen to be in Paris in the next couple of months, the Petit Palais has an impressive display of 150 Zorn paintings. I’m wondering if I can tempt Vanessa with some Champs-Élysées shopping!

This Post Has 153 Comments

  1. Virginia

    Thank you Will for sharing. So great to see such beautiful art, that would be considered contemporary today.

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Virginia, glad you enjoyed the article.


    Love the drawings and to learn from then its really
    great work.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Asiso, glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Val

    Once again a big thank you Will for sending this insight into, what looks to be a wonderful exhibition. I am unable to go myself due to my husband being unwell. Your advice and tips are always so interesting and inspiring. Now where are my pencils …..

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Val, pleased you’re feeling inspired, hope your husband is on the mend.

      1. Hank Voss

        Thank you so very much . I work in attempt to become confident enough to create serious portraits . My first reaching out to learn from someone else is now with my study of your material . I am a life long painter always intimidated by Portrait painting
        I am now committed to achieving some communication with others . If I may I would like to continue to write you about my work

  4. Jivko

    Excellent article full of information and insights!

  5. jane staffier

    Hi Will-
    Very nice of you!
    This is the artist who inspired me to do portraits. I taught myself and it was real work but would not let it go.
    I was further inspired by reading history & historical novels–Wolf Hall a favorite.
    I did not see the film but will recommend the CD as you feel like you are in the room and the tiny part Holbein is masterful.
    Cromwelll looks at his just completed portrait by HH and says to his son:

    “I look like a murderer!”
    “Didn’t you know?” son replies innocently.

    King H 8th must have held HH in great esteem as he became betrothed tor Ann of Cleves on the basis on the pretty girl in HH’s portrait.
    When she arrived from Holland, well…King H 8th married anyway for 24 hrs then pensioned heer off to the country and did not send HH to the tower!
    Keep up the good work!
    I promise to post to the Etsy site: Lady Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots and some of the portraits I’ve done.

    1. Will Kemp

      Good one Jane, really pleased you enjoyed it and what an inspiration to start your own portraits from, hope the drawing methods helped.

  6. Alan Cayton

    Thanks for sharing this Will. I enjoyed learning more about Hans Holbein and seeing the intricate portraits. Would you mind if I shared it on Face Book?

    1. Will Kemp

      By all means Alan, really pleased you enjoyed it.

  7. Penny

    Thank you Will, I enjoyed this article very much. Did you see his portrait of Anne of Cleves? He draws the female face with such delicacy and artistry, not surprising Henry was charmed. I imagine Holbein had a few anxious moments over the outcome of that enterprise.
    Thanks for all the technical insights too, I’d never given much thought to drawing tools before the graphite pencil!
    I always look forward to receiving your articles

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Penny, pleased you enjoyed the article, the Anne of Cleves portrait wasn’t on show in the exhibition, it’s currently in the Louvre, Paris.

  8. Joan Neal

    Dear Will. I continue to be amazed by the breadth of your knowledge of so many artists and mediums. You continuously make me want to learn more! Thank you so much. I feel so blessed to be on your mailing list and have learned so much. Your astute attention to finite details continues to delight the reader, at least me! Thank you again!

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s brilliant to hear Joan, very kind of you to say so and really pleased you’ve been enjoying the articles (hope the new brush works out well)

  9. Margaret

    I’m sure you can! :-) Thanks for all those interesting descriptions and helpful advice as usual! I came across Holbein when I did my OU BA. Favourite of mine too! Not sure if I can get to London or not though.

    1. Will Kemp

      Ha, ha, she seems very keen on the idea, pleased you enjoyed the descriptions Margaret.

  10. Patricia

    Hola Will
    Thank you for this report oficina your tour on that beautiful exhibition, I really enjoy all you wrote about it.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this trip.


    1. Will Kemp

      Hola Patrica, glad you enjoyed learning about the portraits.


    I loved that Holbein painted potential brides for Henry.. the 16th century version of flipping through profiles on a dating website. Very interesting read!

    1. Will Kemp

      Ha, ha, pleased you enjoyed it Rick.

  12. Barbara creason

    Thanks Will… I love portraits. I could look at them all day. The history is a great read. Looking forward to picking up my paint brush again. It’s been a long time.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hope you’re feeling inspired with your own paintings Barbara, pleased you enjoyed the article.

  13. Kavita khanna

    Thanks for showing us such beautiful portraits.

  14. Monica

    Super work Will !
    great study ! thank you a lot for sharing your knowledge and experience !

    1. Will Kemp

      You’re more than welcome Monica.

  15. Delores Haugland

    THANK YOU WILL! A wonderful way to start the day….appreciated the important methods you pointed out….I never would have gotten that….just would have said, oh that’s lovely, but not really realising what media he was using.

    1. Will Kemp

      Pleased the insights on the drawing techniques were of interest Delores, have a great day!

  16. Viviane

    Thank you for sharing information and your love of art and artists.

  17. Maureen Glynn

    I really enjoyed reading this Will. Those Hans Holbein portrait drawings are pure delight and reflect the character of the sitter so well. Your explanations are superb.
    I have recommended your online acrylic painting courses in my second teaching book entitled: Art and Design for Students with SEN due to be published by Routledge Educational in January 2018.

    Thank you .

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Maureen, so pleased you enjoyed reading the article and thanks so much for your recommendation in your new book, very much appreciated.

  18. Jennifer

    Wow thanks so much for sharing found it fascinating

    1. Will Kemp

      Good one Jennifer, so pleased you enjoyed it.

  19. terri ziets

    “portrait colours are never viewed in isolation.” elaborate, pls?

    Fantastic! your extraordinary eye for detail makes you a good teacher.
    thx for sharing.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Terri, when painting a portrait (or any painting) the colours are only really viewed as correct when all the surrounding colours are in place. If you had a blank canvas and painted the perfect skin tone mix in the centre of the canvas, it would initially appear ‘wrong’ because it’s surrounded by white, rather than the other flesh tones. When the surrounding colours are painted in, the first colour will then work.
      Hope this helps,

      1. Ellen Scarisbrick

        Hi Will, Thanks for giving this explanation. Love your willingness to share.

  20. Betty

    Will, Many thanks for taking us on this tour (and others.) You are an excellent tutor. I learn a lot about art history and technique from your artist’s eye. Enjoyable and educational. Best to you, Betty

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Betty, glad you enjoyed the virtual trip around the show.

  21. willie lee

    Thanks for showing us these beautiful art pieces.

    1. Will Kemp

      Pleased you enjoyed them Willie.

  22. Ela

    It was such delight to read your article. Holbein The Younger is one of my favourite artists but it was your deep insight that made me aware of his drawing techniques. Thank you!

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s fab to hear Ela, hope it helped to give a new perspective to his methods.

  23. Peggy Egger

    This was a great read! Your explanations were so helpful. I shared this with my Art Corner friends with whom I paint each week. Several do scratch board art, which sound like the Silverpoint method a bit. Thank you.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks very much Peggy, yes, scratchboard is very similar to etching, like silverpoint but in reverse, thanks for sharing.

  24. M Consuelo Jimenez

    Many thanks for sharing. Everything saw is beautiful.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Consuelo, glad you enjoyed it.

  25. Sue Warrillow

    This is a great article, so informative, and as I cannot get up to London myself anymore just so enjoyable to experience your visit.

    1. Will Kemp

      So pleased it helped to give you a small insight into the show Sue.

  26. Becky Floyd

    Thank you for sharing these. The portraits are really stunning! They look so simple yet have such depth. Beautifully done. Again thank you….if only I could be in London in the next two weeks….hmm

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Becky, glad you enjoyed the portraits, hope you can catch the exhibition.

  27. Monica Meitin

    Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed viewing the sketches.

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Monica, so pleased you enjoyed the article.

  28. Julia Shen

    Thank you so much for writing about your fantastic art tour and sharing with us with vivid photos of the master’s portraits. I took pen and ink classes and worked on silverpoint technique long ago. Your writing inspired me to dig into my forgotten tools and class notes. Please keep me informed when you have your modern silver point class ready. Ah, modern silver point – a great name.

    1. Will Kemp

      Good one Julia, hope you enjoy working with the silverpoint again.

  29. Linda Wilson

    Thank you for sharing, I so love having visual contact with works from creative people from so long ago, I guess pastels have replaced the chalk which gives such softness to works. Linda

  30. Carole

    Thanks, Will. I’ve got your Portrait Course, which is great, and this inspires me to develop things further. You’re so generous with your info… thank you!

    1. Will Kemp

      Hey Carole, really pleased you’ve been finding the portrait course helpful in your own paintings.

  31. Linda C

    Hello Will,

    Ah! What an interesting article. I love how simple the portraits look in palette, but in reality I’m sure it was far from that. Stunning. Thank you! Always enjoy your articles and videos.

    Take care,
    Linda C.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you enjoyed it Linda.

  32. geoff heath

    Thank you Will, excellent evaluations and such insight, is there no end to your talents?
    More on sketching in pencils please.
    Best wishes to you and all you love,

    1. Will Kemp

      You’re very kind Geoff, my pleasure.

  33. Philippa Granwal

    Thanks so much Will. As I am marooned at the bottom of the world in Australia can’t get to the exhibition so your thoughts on it are doubly appreciated. So interesting and informative.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Phillipa, really pleased you could experience some of the ‘virtual’ show.

  34. Robyn

    These drawings are extraordinary and a privilege to score and study. I really appreciated where you drew attention to Holbein’s use of negative space in determining a compatible composition to the sitter. I had not viewed from that perspective before and I found it enlightening and very valuable. Thanks so much Will…always like Christmas around here!

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad it helped Robyn, it can be such an effective method for framing your own portraits within the canvas.

  35. helen bhual

    thankyou for the amazing drawingssI was born in London England

  36. Jacque

    Thanks so much for sharing all your wealth of knowledge in so many subjects. Always, always learning!

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you found it of interest Jacque.

  37. Vivian Ho

    !You encourage me to continue to draw !
    Thank you !
    God bless you


  38. Janet

    Thanks Will, a fantastic and fascinating reading!
    Cheers, Janet

  39. Bee


  40. Rosemary

    Thanks so much Will for an excellent and descriptive article. Not only was it informative but drew my attention to small details I otherwise would never have noticed. I only wish I could have attended the exhibition with you to take advantage of your observations along the way. Thanks for bringing Holbein the Younger to Australia as I never would have got to experience the atmosphere so well.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Rosemary, glad it helped to give a closer look at some of Holbein’s methods.

  41. Kare Chapman

    What a treat to fire up my iPad and come across this. So thoughtful.
    I saw HH’s complete collection (150?) at the Getty Museum in Southern California decades ago. You are right. The viewer gazes at the faces and wonders about their lives. It was so memorable. Hugs.

    1. Will Kemp

      Wow Kare, that must have been great, hope it brought back good memories of the show.

  42. Ann

    Really interesting have never had any formal training as an artist but am learning all the time and this has been a fav of mine forever. Thank you Will

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you found it informative in your studies Ann.

  43. Jen

    Thanks so for this interesting history including the pictures. Quite fascinating.

  44. Pru

    Thank you, Will, for sharing your extensive knowledge and invaluable insights. This was inspiring, much appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pru.

  45. owoo david

    thanks very much Will Kemp

  46. Angela

    Thank you so much Will to share your knowledge with us. It was very interesting. Unfortunately I cannot be in London but maybe in Paris. Thanks and be well. Bon continuation.

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Angela, so pleased you enjoyed the drawings.

  47. shirley rae

    So enjoyed this article and hope that I learned something from it. I am a bit puzzled as to why he always seems to portray the right eye (as seen on looking at portrait) slightly smaller than the left, even when perspective would seem to dictate otherwise. I am trying to do a portrait of my friends very beautiful granddaughter but the absence of shadow is making this very difficult. Do look forward to hearing from you. Regards – Shirley Rae

    1. Will Kemp

      Pleased you learnt something new from the article Shirley and hope your portrait goes well.

  48. Peter Browning

    Thanks Will, for such an interesting and informative piece. The work looks as fresh today as when Holbein completed it.
    All the best
    Peter B.

    1. Will Kemp

      Cheers Peter, hope you’re doing well.

  49. Anita Aiyer

    Thank you will for such a detailed description of Holbein’s painting. You have pointed out such subtleties which one like me wouldn’t notice until pointed out. Thank you for taking the time and sharing it with us.

  50. Jenny

    Thoroughly enjoyed this! I’ve often stared at Holbein’s works, myself, wondering what it is that is so captivating….other than the time period, which is ‘one’ of my favorites. You nailed it with your comment – ‘it’s pretty amazing to see how contemporary these drawings looked considering they were drawn over 400 years ago.’ Minus the period clothing, the faces are all so incredibly modern, as if the sitter was drawn just yesterday, posing in Tudor Style! Especially the ‘unknown sitters’. They have always fascinated me the most! Perhaps we have Holbein to thank, for our continued fascination with the Tudor time period. I so wish I could visit this exhibit in person. Many Thanks for sharing this!!

    1. Will Kemp

      So pleased you enjoyed revisiting the Holbein portraits Jenny.

  51. Susan Feldman

    I have not updated my web site in years, so please forgive. I am actually doing many portraits, so I found your dialogue on Holbein most enlightening and valuable. Thank you so much for sharing, Susan Feldman

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks Susan, good to hear your portraits are going well.

  52. AEmer

    Hi will
    I really enjoyed your visit to the museum and all the lovely sketches and works of art .
    Do you ever run courses that are not on line
    Id love to do one ?

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Emer, glad you enjoyed it the article, I don’t currently run any live workshops but good to know it would be of interest.

  53. Deb Rickard

    A very interesting and informative read. Thanks, Will.

  54. Cheryl Hughes

    Some history with Art and loads of information – just my thing! I very much enjoy your way of teaching – even a ‘log-head’ like me learns something every time! Thanks Will

    1. Will Kemp

      Ha, ha, so glad you enjoyed it Cheryl.

  55. Linda Thornton

    Just want to add my thanks for your insightful look at someone I’ve never really considered, other than to wonder whether Henry VII demanded of Holbein to give him more muscular legs! (Isn’t the carpet wonderful, too!)

    1. Will Kemp

      Ha, ha, glad you enjoy the article, Linda.

  56. Sarah

    Thanks for this very interesting article Will, you have a lovely natural teaching style & have reminded me how much I enjoyed my late night Art history A level lectures in the 80’s, with a fabulous and enthusiastic teacher. Sadly, as a full time student with a 6am start, I rarely made it all the way through a lecture and would often fall asleep in the darkened room. I often find a piece of info about various artist and artwork popping into my head. Thanks for adding to it.

    Any chance of you running an online Art History course?

    Thanks for all you do, you have inspired me to take up painting again, over 30 years since leaving college.

    Best wishes


    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Sarah, lovely to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments, so pleased you’ve been inspired to start painting again. Really hope you find the lesson helpful. I haven’t got an Art History course planned at the moment, but very kind of you to say so.

  57. JA Arnott

    Your articles are beautifully informative. I always find something to add to my repertoire of useful techniques. This one will add the notion of a pink ground to portrait drawing and will pass on to my drawing students if you don’t mind.
    thank you once again for your terrific knowledge sharing. regards, Julie

    1. Will Kemp

      Thanks very much, hope your students have good fun experimenting with some pink grounds Julie.

  58. Rinus

    Thanks for sharing this

  59. Jamie Wilson

    this is such a wonderful treat to see such soft beautiful works preserved for so many years…..thank you for sharing

  60. Michael Keene

    Inspiring Will!

  61. Bernie

    Thanks Will for a very informative and illustrative article. One can only but admire and envy Holbein’s skills.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you found it informative Bernie.

  62. Renuka Madan

    Will, I love reading your observations about exhibitions and paintings. Please keep updating this section regularly; it’s such a pleasure. The last exhibition I went to in London was the Sargent watercolours at the Dulwich gallery — I’m going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston next week as a follow-up. It’s so much better hearing from a real, practising painter than from an art critic! Don’t be shy!

    1. Will Kemp

      That’s very kind of you to say so Renuka, so pleased you enjoyed it. Have a great time at MFA Boston.

  63. Donna

    Will, this article was very informative and you are kind to share your experience. Reading about Holbein motivated me to start sketching again! Thanks.

    1. Will Kemp

      Well, that’s fantastic to hear Donna! so pleased you enjoyed it.

  64. Frieda Stewart

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting and educational article.

  65. Ann Lewitowski

    Thanks Will for the info concerning silver point. Excited about trying it out.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hope you enjoy experimenting with the silverpoint Ann.

  66. Laurel Petkus

    Thank you Will for giving me the opportunity to view some amazing art that I would never be able to see in person. So much can be learned from this exposure. Much enjoyed.

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Laurel, really pleased you enjoyed it.

  67. Rosemarie Beresford

    So glad you made the trip to London for this amazing show and shared your
    keen observations and analysis of the H.Holbein’s approaches to his sitters. I
    had seen some of the Windsor Castle Holbeins at The Morgan Library,NYC
    on loan in the late 1950’s but did not have the facility to inspect the techiques
    which you have shared so generously. That about the varying pink grounds to
    capture and render the complexion of the sitter and thus convey character before
    the features are detailed is interesting. Thank you very much Will.

    1. Will Kemp

      Hi Rosemarie, yes that pink ground is a really effective technique and it can be amazing how much of a sitters character can be revealed.

  68. Jane Smythe

    Thank you so much for this detailed lesson. Wonderful.

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Jane, really pleased you enjoy the article.

  69. Cathy

    Hi Will, thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge. I love following your museum trips as they are so informative, in particular your insights on an artists techniques .Your posts are so inpring that I always want to reach for my art materials straight Away!

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Cathy, hope you’re doing well. Glad you enjoyed learning about Holbein’s methods.

  70. Tonderai jeza

    Will you are the best,I can’t believe iam now able to produce beautiful potraits.Your articles are very informative.

  71. Greta

    Thank you Will for sharing this fascinating art. Love it. So inspirational. G

    1. Will Kemp

      Pleased you enjoyed it Greta.

  72. Rose

    The men can quite easily fit in, in today’s society. I’m so glad I found your site! I’m learning more from you than found anywhere else. Thank you for sharing your hard earned talent with us.

  73. Anthony

    Went to this exhibition last year and my goodness wasn’t it just brilliant and inspiring! Holbein also won me over, I was amazed by how much smaller some of the portraits were in real life but it just shows the amount of tiny details he put into these drawings.
    The woman in the white headress looking out at us is the one that grabbed me, would love to know who she is! Some say it was Anne of Cleve’s sister Amelia but the NPG said the sitters clothes are English so it’s someone else…
    Great article and glad you enjoyed it too! Hope we see more of his drawings in future at certain exhibitions instead of being locked up in drawers!

    1. Will Kemp

      So pleased you managed to catch the show Anthony.

  74. Nathan Ford

    Hello Will, I was so enriched by Holbein’s pieces in this show. I can’t believe it was three years ago. During this covid19 lockdown I have nobody to bore with talk of how good Holbein’s drawings are. As a fellow fan I therefore reach out to you. Thanks for putting your article out there and well done on your tutorials. I am very much in agreement with your core principles.

    1. Will Kemp

      My pleasure Nathan, yes it was fab to see them, Holbein always seemed to have such simplicity in his lines (really nice drawing son your site BTW)

  75. pbass wil

    The contrast between his selective sketchiness, and the utter realism of certain details is so unique to HHtY. It jumps out at me how central to him is the shape of _between_ the lips – always one of his darkest lines. And how secondary and de-emphasized is the outer contour of the lips.

  76. Will Pickering

    Saw some of these drawing in New York many years ago. First time I really understood how a drawing could be better than a photograph.

    1. Will Kemp

      Glad you got a chance to see them Will

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.