New Year, New View? How a Few Small Changes Influenced my Portrait Painting Style


There was a small sign that hung below an empty black space, it read ‘In Prestito‘.

On loan.

Last Summer I was back in Florence, Italy, to visit one of my favourite paintings that had enticed me to the city over 10 years ago.

The only problem was, when I got to the gallery, the painting wasn’t there.

It was at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and I had missed it.

The painting?

Caravaggio’s sleeping Cupid.

There was something about the fall of golden light that I loved in this painting and the reality of experiencing it within the grand surroundings of the Pitti Palace was a world away from seeing it in an art textbook.

Caravaggio, Sleeping Cupid

Caravaggio, 1608, Oil on canvas, (usually on display at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy)

But sometimes, when your routine is broken and fate takes a hand, your direction shifts – you experience something new.

Dragging my feet and grumbling to Vanessa in 40-degree heat, I wasn’t the perfect gallery companion, so Vanessa wisely suggested an expresso in the courtyard of the Palace.

With a backdrop of the Boboli Gardens a serene and cool courtyard surrounded by elegant arches and slightly crumbling pillars, my tranquillity was restored.

We set off in a different direction around the gallery and hung high out of eye-line I happened upon a Ribera, a painting I’d seen before, but had forgotten was part of the permanent collection.


ribera-Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew

Jusepe de Ribera, Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew

Now although this initially appears a very dark painting, I was focusing on Ribera’s refined draughtsmanship, his naturalistic handling of skin tones and subtle palette.

It is a real masterclass, a wide tonal range, an interesting pattern in the negative shapes, warm scumbled underpainting balanced with cool creamy whites of the cloth.

The skin tones give a realistic turning of the form yet are painted very simply and the position of the hand and feet indicate the gesture of the whole piece.

It brought into focus the other reason I’d returned to Florence – to study colour glazing techniques for Classical Oil Portraiture with Maestro Michael John Angel at the Angel Academy of Art.

Back at the Angel Academy

Whilst glazing is a technique I use on nearly all of my paintings, from landscapes, portraits and still lifes, this particular course focused on the glazing techniques of the painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.


William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Self-portrait, 1879

Bouguereau was a French painter who studied at the Ecole des-Beaux-arts in Paris and worked in a classical academic style. A high importance was placed on drawing, accurate depiction of the subject, a realist practice rather than an impressionist practice, resulting in a porcelain, ethereal quality.

Now, Bouguereau’s style is not how I naturally paint.

I’ve always favoured the sight-size gestural brushstrokes of Velasquez and Sargent. Building up warm colours in thicker marks by mixing the colour on the palette and then painting it on the canvas in one stroke, giving the paintings a more impressionistic feel.

When I’m in my studio at home, I begin portraits in pretty much the same way, the drawings good, the tonal contrast is nice and the painting comes along really well.

As the portrait develops I introduce colours I allow myself to paint freely, with expression and look forward to the moment I can get the thick paint out on the palette knife.

Bouguereau’s work is smooth and luminous, a build up of thin layers over a black-and-white ‘grisaille’ underpainting.

The foundations for all of these painters works stem from the same classical training. So the paintings often start the same, the academic teaching of the French Academy was studied both by Sargent and Bouguereau, but the surface quality of the finished portrait is different.


William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Cupid with a Butterfly, 1888

I’ve always been curious about the techniques and methods of glazing an oil painting from a black-and-white portrait up to full colour and relished the challenge of achieving a more polished look.


The painting starts off with a green/grey tonal ground. The reference image is black and white and positioned at the same size as the painting so I can work ‘sight-size’. When you can just flick your eyes from the subject to your painting, without having to resize the image in your mind, it makes it much easier to judge the relative tones and colours.


Once the dark shadow tone is established with a Burnt Umber, I start to introduce the lighter tones onto the light side of the face.

adding-midtones-to portrait-painting copy

Here the full range of tones are on both the light and the shadow side of the face with the Burnt Umber still acting as the darkest part, away from the light.



Once the black and white tones are established the thinner smokey layers of colour can be glazed over the top.


The colour application is kept thinner in the shadows to allow some of the underpainting to show through.



Will Kemp, After Bouguereau, Oil on Canvas

Did I find the answer?

Yes, but it wasn’t as I expected.

In the inspiring location of Florence, no internet connection, 7 hour painting days and encouragement from Michael John Angel to persevere, I discovered it wasn’t a new painting technique I needed.

It was the simple discipline of applying multiple thin blushes of colour until the end of the painting.

The important bit is ‘until the end of the painting’

The truth is, I’ve never attempted to paint a Bouguereau before.

But I have attempted to paint something similar in a similar style and I found I kept on thinking about half-way through, that the painting was uninteresting and the surface quality was boring.

So I’d go to my default ‘thick paint stroke security blanket’ as reassurance when the painting wasn’t coming to life and I’d end up with a pretty decent portrait.

But it didn’t really fulfil what I’d set out to achieve – in fact, they looked pretty similar to my other works.

However, when working through the painting methods on the Bouguereau course, I had to resist my own ‘style’ when colour was introduced.

Instead of jumping for the thicker paint I had to hold back, work through the process with the same colours and thin layers.

And then something happened.

Before I knew it the painting was looking how I’d always imagined.

It looked good, not boring at all. The skin tones were looking smooth and luminous, and I hadn’t actually done anything much different.

My technical skills were the same, but the change in environment, experience from a knowledgeable tutor and breaking my painting routine from home had been enough to achieve a different result.

It was a really eye-opening exercise that satisfied my desire to learn this naturalistic realism painting style.

Will I be painting a series of super polished cherubs? Probably not, but I will be using the techniques within my existing portraits to create a new series of works (whilst still brandishing a fully loaded palette knife!).

It feels super exciting, a new influence that might take my portrait work in a new direction altogether.

burnt umber underpainting portraits copy

The whites are first painted on the bow of the fabric so I have a indication of where the lightest areas are within the painting. I can then judge the tonal range within the skintones of the painting.
portrait painting gabrielle-cot copy
Will Kemp, After Bouguereau, (from a portrait of Gabrielle Cot) Oil on Canvas
portrait-of-gabrielle-cot copy
Notice how you can see the grey underpainting in the turn of the jaw.

Out of interest, early in his career, John Singer Sargent had fate intervene with his painting style. He tried to study painting at the Academy of Florence.

At the time he applied the Academy was having a restructure, so he returned home to Paris to look for a different school.

It was on his return that he first began his studies with the French painter Carolus-Duran.

Duran had a different approach than Bouguereau, he didn’t build up the painting in layers so much as to teach a more expressive style of painting. Duran loved Velasquez, and this painterly style would be instrumental in Sargents own style of painting.

Florence Sunset

So try a new painting experience, learn a new style, if you see a painting class advertised and it’s not 100% your thing, give it a try.

It could be as simple as joining a local art group or getting together with friends to paint. Go on a guided tour at a local museum, get inspired by seeing actual paintings in front of you.

The change in studio, the people around you, the weather, they all affect how you and the paint behaves. This can result in breakthroughs in your painting that you may not have previously seen.

And if you catch me in a gallery studying a scumble, I’ll shout you a coffee, a brew and a biscuit should never be underestimated on even the most inspirational gallery visits.

© will-kemp-florence-sunset

You can see a more in-depth series of articles on how to paint a black-and-white grisaille here: How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 1

p.s. I’m planning on a new step-by-step course on colour glazing for oil portraiture coming later this year.

This Post Has 223 Comments

  1. Will you be teaching this as an online class? Would love this!

    1. Hi Kate, yes, that’s right a step-by-step online course, pleased you enjoyed it.

  2. A most splendid post, inspirational as always. I do hope to bump into you one day for that cup of char.

    1. Cheers Vernon, really glad you liked it.

  3. Thanks for the great article. As a quilter I am always looking for ideas on how colors work together and occasionally dabble in paint. Those paintings (gallery and yours) are amazing examples of the depth that can be achieved with layering color.

    1. You’re welcome Candice, pleased you enjoyed it.

  4. Thank you for this wonderfully inspiring post!

  5. Its really interesting Will:) im happy to hear from you and happy to know you had have an expeience of taking inspiration from florence. I have been there also least summer its actally amazing and full of inspiration. Look forward to see your new portrate tutarial:)
    Ps. I keep painting thanks to you and your colour mixing videos i understand that i love colour making. I would be happy i you let me send you my least painting and let me know what you do you think about it.

    1. Pleased you’ve been enjoying the colour mixing lessons Sanaz and glad you enjoyed Florence.

  6. Loved reading this Will, it’s great to hear from others that are looking at painting in this way and learning from old techniques .

  7. Wonderful reminder about variation in technique to achieve new results
    Thank you

    1. Cheers Neil, hope you’re doing well.

  8. I wish I could have been there with you learning this process. I’m a fan opf Bouguereau’paintings and I had always wondered how he could do such a fine soft skin on both girls and children. Now you taught us how to. Thank you very much. I’ll keep following your references. All my best wishes, Isaura

    1. Pleased you enjoyed it Isaura and glad it helped to show some of the different painting approaches.

  9. After having just moved from one region of the country to another, I just propped up my first large canvas and found myself painting new subject matter…in my new space. Your post is timely. I cannot wait to see what else you have to share!

    1. Good one Micki, hope the new space brings a new inspiration to your work.

  10. Thank you Will for your inspiration. I teach high school painting and to see your examples and technique information is invaluable to pass on the love of painting to my students. I have shown them your videos and it is truly a public service to enhance their and (my) knowledge of painting. The connections to other artists and your travels make what you provide, a rich experience.

    1. Great to hear it Ann, and thanks so much for sharing the lessons with your students, much appreciated.

  11. YES!! Can’t wait for the colour glazing for oil portraiture. Thanks for the terrific post from 40 degree Florence. You are really inspiring Will!

    1. Cheers Julia, glad you’re looking forward to it.

  12. Hi Will, a really interesting piece. Can’t wait to see the oil portraiture course as I retire next Weds! Any idea when the course will be ready? Cheers, Phil.

    1. Hi Phil, hope you’re looking forward to your retirement, I’m working on a series of portrait paintings at the moment but will be starting soon after that.

  13. Thanks Will :). Excellent as always!! I am hoping to dive into your portrait course soon ( one that I bought at Thanksgiving )- and this makes superb reading / info along side that. I’ve only had time to do the Zorn colour board so far!! – but have sketched the 3 photos in charcoal while I wait to get easel time!! Really interested in your planned course for glazing :). Thanks so much for posting this :) and for the pics of your work along side the originals – really helpful :)

    1. Hey Carol, nice to hear from you and so pleased you’re enjoying the Palette on the acrylic portrait course. Good luck with the next stages of the paintings.

  14. Really interesting, I paint in acrylics and was taught this technique by Sharon Hamilton in a workshop painting tulips. Very satisfying and now I always go this way gives great depth and usually lay on 3 to 7 layers to get the desired effect. Thanks for the insight I went to Italy many years ago and really enjoyed the experience………. Oh mines a coffee please!!

    1. Pleased you enjoyed it Ann and glad you’ve been enjoying glazing your still lifes.

  15. Loved the article. Thanks.

  16. Will:

    I have taken Grisaille lessons from the late John Gutcher in Florida and from Linda Coulter ( who I say is one of the top grisaille artist in the USA. She has visted many of the world museums and studied the old masters techniques.

    One of my other teachers was the late Jonnie Lilidahl (you can view UTUBE videos of her painting techniques, similar to Bouguereau) who taught me much about portraits. Watch her painting style in the “The Courtship” in the on-line sample videos.

    So many painting methods and I find it difficult trying to be a jack of all techniques but a master of none. I even looked at the Russian Leonid Afremov with his unique palette knife style.

    Keep up the great work as I enjoy your emails.


    1. Thanks Allan, pleased you enjoyed the article.

  17. Wow, that was an amazing tutorial. The glazing is so impressive and I am anxious to try it myself. Really appreciate your time and effort in making these great step-by-step tips. Will look forward to the online tutorial!

    1. You’re welcome Pat, glad you’re looking forward to the course.

        1. Probably in a few months from now, I’ll add details on the blog.

  18. Great email. Thanks.
    What medium do you use as a “couch”?
    Walnut oil? Oleogel?
    And how does the medium you use effect your layers
    and luminosity.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Fran, if applying a couch I’d usually just use linseed oil.

  19. Absolutely fantastic! Thank you for sharing! I attended art school over 30 years ago, they did not go into detail with this technique. I feel I have really benefited. I work in acrylics, love glazing, but I am not good at portraiture. I keep working on my drawing skills and my use of color. I am currently working on a series of paintings right now and I will try to incorporate these tips. I am also pushing myself out of my comfort zone and continue to try to improve my drawing and painting skills in portraiture.
    I thoroughly agree: coffee, a scone…a must when painting.
    Thank you again,
    Respectfully, Barry

    1. Cheers Barry, glad you found the article of interest and hope it goes well incorporating into your existing practice.

  20. Really interesting post as always Will.
    I’ve been enjoying experimenting with portraits since following your course and I’m thinking of taking a leap into the world of old next.
    Good luck with the new direction. Hope it works out well.
    Keep up the good work

    1. Thanks Eamonn, pleased you enjoyed the article and the portrait course.

  21. Always a joy to study with you. I consider you and a handful of other artist from different parts of the world as my mentors. I have created a graduate painting course for myself. I think it is better than the one I received the first time around!
    Many thanks!

  22. Thanks, Will, for an inspiring and fascinating blog. As one who looks to you as my own master, I can’t wait for your next course. Meanwhile, though much of my art is totally different in every way to yours, my private- in- the- studio passion remains in realistic and semi realistic portraiture, and I will do just as you do…keep practising, trying new techniques, and taking baby steps to improve. Thanks for being my hero!

    1. Thanks very much Linda, pleased you’re looking forward to the course and yes, practicing new techniques in small steps is the best way to improve.

  23. Hello,

    I look forwward to your new step-by-step course on colour glazing for oil portraiture!
    Are you planning any other online courses on oil paintning?
    The first course was great.
    Best wishes and thank you ,

    1. Hi Agnieszka, pleased you enjoyed the grisaille course, at the moment I’m working on a landscape and still life acrylic course and the colour oil portrait course so probably not in the near future.

  24. Dear Will,
    You are a star! I love this article and can’t wait to read your colour glazing course.

    My M.Graham oils are on the way so I’m reading all I can on painting in oils.

    What a pity Florence is so far from here but as we have you going there and writing so picturesquely and enthusiastically about your trip and the wonderful art that you studied there brings it to life for us. Thank you for doing that.We truly appreciate all that you share with us.

    Your dear wife is also a star! She is obviously a born diplomat. I’m glad you both enjoyed the espresso in the Palace courtyard.

    Warm Regards

    Susan Smith

    1. Good one Susan, hope you enjoy experimenting with the M Graham oils, and yes Vanessa is a bit of a star diplomat! pleased you enjoyed the article.

  25. Well Mr.Kemp, I have read these pages in my home in Southport and have been transported to Italy. You write easily and entertainingly and informatively, which made reading these pages a pleasure. Oh! Happy New Year to you and those you love.
    Thank you for your writing and pictures, thank you for pushing me onwards and advising me in my toil.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Geoff, lovely to hear from you and thanks for the kind comments, great that you were transported to Italy and hope it inspires your work.

  26. I really enjoyed reading through this Will. You are very talented and so inspiring to a ‘new girl’. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience and emotions with me.

    1. Pleased you enjoyed it Hilary and hope it inspires your own paintings.

  27. Inspiring post Will, thank you. Sometimes I am utterly overwhelmed by how much I have to learn!

    1. Thanks Christine, pleased you enjoyed it, yes, it definitely is a journey with painting, hope you’re feeling inspired.

  28. Thank you, I am going to really enjoy your news letter after your visit to Florence,
    I finished the first portrait and is an exponential change in my ability to do a portrait.
    Thanks for the lessons Will send you the final version which is now with the new owner!
    I gave it to him as a Christmas present.

    Best wishes Andy

    1. Hi Andy, really pleased your portraits have improved from the course and hope the Christmas gift was well received!

  29. Brilliant Will. Thanks.

  30. Hello Will ,
    Great to hear from you and see the exciting work you have been doing . Plenty to think about for painting in 2016 !

    Best wishes ,
    Patrick .

    1. Thank Patrick, hope you’re doing well.

  31. Warm greetings, Will! Thank you so much for sharing your inspiration and teaching me something about the techniques I have always been in awe of. I’m that person who has visited the Louvre and has stood there admiring the Masters’ works for hours. Thank-you for taking us along on your journey. I look forward to your next report!

    1. Hi Lynn, really pleased you enjoyed learning about the techniques, the Louvre is a fab gallery.

  32. The problem remains – I have only painted in acrylics, which is where pressure from my painter friends and most of your courses has taken me.

    I now find I prefer portrait painting, and this posting of yours is, as usual, inspirational and ‘seductive’ … so count me in, Will.

    The only training I ever got on painting was from you, and you took me from a dodgy first step to selling my stuff, in 50 paintings … so, yeah, count me I don’t see how I can lose. Your courses are hugely enjoyable.

    1. Good one John, pleased you’ve been enjoying the lessons. You’ve been learning classical oil painting through the acrylic lessons on the site, they stem from the same classical background just adapted for acrylics, so I think you’d be surprised just how quick you’d pick it up.

  33. Thank you for all your information. It’s all inspirational to try new styles, techniques etc.

  34. Thanks for that happyness shared with us
    Can you tell me how we can get light blue color but intensive one, when I mix whit and blue it is to light
    I wish bright light blue
    Happy new year and Marry cristhmas

    1. Hey Svetlana, a phthalo blue and white will give you a super turquoise bright blue and a ultramarine and white will give you a more purple light blue.

  35. Having lived in Florence for 12 months while an art student in college (multi anni fa)
    it was a joy to read your post. As always, your expertise and willingness to share your process is a gift.

    1. Pleased you enjoyed it Claudia and hope you had a great time while studying there.

  36. I feel this article was written for me! Recently purchased an oil painting where water dominates the scene. This artist only works in glazed oils building up the layers. When lit, it’s totally mesmerizing! I had to buy it! Can’t get enough looking at it! I’m new to painting & use acrylics. Can I use the same technique, Will? Your online school & courses keep me learning & resolve many of my frustrations. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    1. Hey Shirley, really pleased you enjoyed the article, yes, you can apply the same techniques with acrylics, using an acrylic with a bit more working time like Golden OPEN acrylic can help with blending time in the glazes.

      1. Thanks Will for your timely reply! Intend to get more serious about my art! Time to start at the beginning with your drawing course!

        1. Good one Shirley, a great place to start.

          1. Many thanks for the support, Will!

  37. Will…. We were in the same class with JMA last summer. We never met but while viewing student work at the end of each day, always stopped at one particular easel to marvel at the development of the paintings. I realize now it was you!

    I really appreciate your newsletters. I’ve been on your list for a while. You are a wonderful artist and teacher. Thank you for sharing your talent and ability to translate theory to practice.


    1. Hi Heidi, well what a coincidence! hope you enjoyed the class and thanks for the kind words, next time we’ll have to go for a aperitivo!

  38. I’ve always loved the luminosity of Bouguereau’s paintings; so ethereal. And…looking forward to your course on portraiture! Thanks.

  39. Just want to second all the admiring comments above. My only negative remark is that I hadn’t seen the Bouguereau Cupid With a Butterfly before and was surprised that he could make of this subject such an unpleasant image, looking as though he somehow combined elements of a young woman’s face and upper body and, for the rest, a toddler. Your own work and teaching though, remain inspiring. When I can manage it, I look forward to taking more of your courses.

    Meanwhile, great thanks,

    1. Hi Janis, pleased you enjoyed the insights and are looking forward to the course.

  40. Will,

    I have been hoping that you would present a color oil portrait course ever since I took your black and white course, which was great. Thank you and I’m looking forward to taking it.

    Ron Evans

    1. Cheers Ron, hope you found the grisaille course helpful.

  41. Live in Arizona USA.
    Wonderful article. I’m looking forward to the new portrait videos.

    1. Thanks Harriet, glad you’re looking forward to it.

  42. Thank you for this article. It was interesting to see how you used the glazing. I can understand you wanted to see the painting of Caravaggio. I like his paintings with the highlights very much.

    1. You’re welcome Gerda, so pleased you enjoyed the article.

  43. Hi Will
    I am a new and big fan of glazing. My medium at this time is acrylic. Are the techniques for glazing in acrylic similar to glazing in oil, or are there some particular methods that work better?
    Will you be doing any acrylic glazing classes?

    1. Hi Sharon, yes the methods are very similar, the masterclass course looks at glazing with acrylics on a still life subject.
      Hope this helps,


  44. Hi Will
    Thank you for yet another inspiring article. Is it possible to achieve the same outcome with glazing techniques using acrylic paint? Really enjoyed your Urban Sketching Course during the xmas break. It’s given me confidence to sketch in public and to ’embrace my wonky lines’. Many thanks Meredith

    1. Hi Meredith, glad you enjoyed the Urban sketching course and so pleased it gave you the confidence to sketch in public, yes, you can use acrylics in the same glazing method.

  45. I have just been so inspired by your portrait painting post that I am going to have a go at painting my husband tomorrow! Super stuff. Thank you very much indeed!

    1. Great to hear it Bridget, hope the portrait goes well.

  46. Thanks for that Will. You paint beautiful portraits

    1. Thanks Margaret, kind of you to say so.

  47. Hi Will nice to hear from you.Loved your account of Venice,it’s good to see things through different eyes.The glazing in your portrait looks superb so natural.I have had to keep going back to re look at it.Well done you..
    Regards. Jean.

    1. Thanks Jean, pleased you liked the glazing.

  48. Hi Will,
    I live in country NSW so I when I heard the Art Gallery NSW in Sydney was holding an exhibition “The Greats” Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland I just had to go. My love of the old masters was not disappointed, just deepened.I have just returned home to check my emails when yours popped up,talking about those things that entranced me in the gallery. Before I left I was delving into John Singer Sargent’s work and came across a painting of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw. Wow what a painting! It’s funny how you make a new “discovery” even though you have read, skimmed,flicked through your many art books a million times. I find the more skill you acquire on your painting journey and your interests deepen the more your eyes are opened. Then suddenly your standing in front of your new discovery.It is one thing to see it on a page it’s another thing to see it in person. Many thanks to Scotland and Australian Galleries. Anyone out there thinking of buying Will’s Tute’s, do, your eyes will be opened. Thanks Will always love your email’s and your generosity with your knowledge, now I have have someone else to explore, Bouguereau. Thanks Will

    1. Hi Virgina, lovely to hear from you, the Sargent painting of Lady Agnew is a real cracker! so pleased you got to catch the exhibition from the National Galleries of Scotland and glad the article has introduced you to a new painter. Thanks for your kind word on the courses.

  49. Thanks Will Bouguereau is one of my favorites, He has so much to teach us if you love realism. Muted backgrounds red in his greens & so much more. Your lessons have really got me going on my art journey. Have a great year.

    1. Thanks Malcolm, pleased you enjoyed it.

  50. Hi Will,

    Thank you for a very interesting and inspiring article. I visited Florence many years ago and it completely opened my eyes to the Renaissance – up to that point I was only interested in twentieth century art. This whole new world was revealed.

    Your grisaille “Portrait in Oils” course was a tremendous help. It really got me back into painting after over a decade of working digitally. In fact the whole course was put together so well, for quite some time, it became a sort of point of reference before starting a painting. I had a process to build on. It also gave me a real love for the medium of oil. It is always the portrait that I come back to as a subject. But my attempts at colour glazing, despite much experimentation, have not been altogether successful. Somehow I’m not getting it. I will be your first customer for a course in oil glazes.


    1. Hi Terry, good to hear from you and so pleased that you found the black and white course helpful in your portraits, pleased you’re looking forward to the course.

  51. I do acrylics, pastels and pen and ink. I have not had an interest in oils. Perhaps it’s my impatience. Can the same technique work using acrylics? Your work is stunning.

    1. Hi Cookie, yes, you can use the same methods with acrylics, pleased you enjoyed the article.

  52. Hi Will,
    How timely was your post! I am contemplating a large canvas that I have just started with a black and white image, and was intending to build the colour up gradually as I want something that “glows”, but to be honest I didn’t have a clue how to approach it, really. You have saved me some angst (and possibly a canvas)
    I owe you a coffee!
    Many thanks from sunny New Zealand,

    1. Good one Rachel, hope the painting goes well and enjoy the sunshine.

  53. Dear Will,

    Your latest portrait work, with thinner layers is stunningly beautiful. Congratulations! on your success in accomplishing a style you weren’t comfortable with at first.
    I so appreciated the detailed explanation, and encouragement.
    Last week I completed a painting that was somewhat challenging, experiential in that my style was never realism. The subject was in my imagination, about Coeur d’ Alene, the river in Idaho. All I had in memory was the deep blue of the river.
    This painting is a gift for my son’s windowless office. He recently completed his PhD in organic chemistry. The painting was mailed to Idaho yesterday.
    Making art with time is on my side will ease my soul.

    PS I’d like to show you a photo of the painting.

    1. Hi Lydia, thanks very much, pleased your painting went well for your son, really hope he enjoys it and it gives inspiration to his science.

  54. What a beautiful insight into your personal artistic journey. Thank you. I am looking forward to the new course!

    1. Thanks Carla, pleased you enjoyed it.

  55. Great post Will, really enjoyed it! Will give this a go sometime soon. Sounds like a lot of patience required.
    Regards, Janet

  56. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey your narrative in this post took me on. You are always learning and sharing and that’s very inspiring to me. I have only worked with Watercolors and Acrylics – never ventured into Oils because the drying time intimidates me. I look forward to your new course – who knows, it might just be what I need to do…

    1. Thanks Jasmine, the drying times with oils can really be a benefit when painting portraits due to the extra time you have for softening the edges of your portrait so definitely worth a go.

  57. Hi Will, thanks so much for your article. It is so informative and enjoyable to read. Florence is so far from here and I am unlikely to be able to get there, your photos are just beautiful. Vanessa is a wise woman indeed, everything is always better once there’s a cup of espresso in hand. I look forward to your upcoming course and more great articles.
    Kindly, Tania

    1. Thanks Tania, pleased you enjoyed the photos and are looking forward to the upcoming courses, yes I think Vanessa loves tea even more than me! hope you’re well.

  58. Hi Will
    I absolutely LOVE these portraits you have painted. The way you have ‘crafted’ them (especially the first one), pulls me into them in a mystical and magical way! I will definitely be buying the DVD on this when it comes out. Thank you for sharing your ideas, thoughts, experiences and knowledge with everyone. It is most kind and generous of you.
    With my appreciation and thanks,

    1. Hi Linda, you’re more than welcome, pleased you liked the portraits and thanks so much for your kind words.

  59. Hi Will and a very Happy New Year to you too. Loved the article and found it very interesting. Still working on the acrylics course and thoroughly enjoying it. Keep up the good work. Your articles are always a great read.
    Cheers, Pete

    1. Thanks Pete, pleased the acrylic course is going well and glad you enjoyed the read.

  60. Thank you very much , Will.
    Always masterful …

  61. Really inspirational post Will. Definitely saved for future reference.

  62. Hi Will , very inspirational . Have spent a lot of time in Florence , Heritage in St . Pietersburg and Moskva in the museums , but have yet to do Louvre .
    Please keep me updated on your intended courses .
    Have a very good year ahead of you .

  63. I am encouraged by the fact that someone as advanced as you are still explores new styles and tries new things. Always learning…so cool. I’m just starting to explore…
    Thank you for sharing your honest journeys as always. Very inspiring! Gelato and Pizza sounds wonderful as well!

    1. Thanks Aya, yes it’s always a journey of discovery with your painting, as with trying new Gelato flavours!

  64. I just got my coffee and opened my laptop to this email and I have to say I really enjoyed these ‘post cards’ from Florence and the journey you took us on with your own painting – it feels great to have a professional artist and tutor sharing this material with us in this way – thank you.

    1. Thanks Deborah, so pleased you enjoyed it.

  65. Hi Will,
    Thanks for posting such an interesting and entertaining article. I have learned so much about painting since finding your school on line. I saw the Sargent exhibition, Portraits of Artists and Friends, at the Met in NYC this past summer and as you said, seeing things in person is a wonderfully different experience from seeing a painting in a textbook. Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X is a good example of the smooth and luminous skin tones you mention in your post. It was one of my favourites of the exhibition.
    Again, many thanks.

    1. Hey Monica, so pleased you managed to catch the Sargent show at the Met, glad you enjoyed it.

  66. Great article as always and stunning portraits.

  67. That was inspirational. Many thanks!

  68. Dear Will,
    When you write, I can see you talking and demonstrating. It is rivetting.
    Looking forward to your Glazing course.


    1. Thanks Chander, pleased you enjoyed the article and are looking forward to the Glazing course.

  69. I am so glad that you found inspiration after your initial disappointment in Florence, inspiration we will all enjoy. With all the othersI’ve been fascinated by your article and i am looking forward to your portrait course..
    My disappointment came in Rome when I went to the Musee de Terme looking for the sculpture of The Boxer only to that part of the museum was closed ‘per carenza di personale’. My mother, a Cornish woman herself, had told me that carenza means love in the ancient Cornish language, I had no idea that it also means absent in Italian. I think i’ll stick with the Cornish meaning!

    1. Hi Carenza, pleased you enjoyed the article and are looking forward to the glazing course, and what a lovely thing to know about the roots of your name, although ‘absent love’ does have a poetic ring to it.

  70. Excelente!! Gracias.
    Tamara Torres.

  71. Hi Will,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ll be sitting down this weekend to do a portrait and reading this is just what I needed. I don’t see why this technique wouldn’t also work for acrylics… or do you think it has to be in oils?

    1. Hi Antonia, yes, you can use the same approach with acrylics, you just need to be a bit speedier when blending if working on a larger scale portrait do the quicker drying time. Golden OPEN acrylics can work well for extending working time with acrylics for thinner applications.

  72. What a joy to to hear joy–an artist clearly pen his own inspiration! Gracie for the experience.

    1. You’re welcome Michael, pleased you enjoyed it.

  73. Hi Will ,

    I love getting your’e e mails. You are really inspiring especially for a 69yr old.
    Wish I had got these years ago.

    1. Thanks Frances, pleased you’ve been enjoying them.

  74. You are a great art teacher! I learn so much from the way you share your art practice. Thanks.

    1. Thanks very much Carolyn, very kind of you to say so.

  75. Happy new year to you too will. I have never attmpted a protrait although I have used glazing techniques. The portraits you have shown here have a beautiful, almost transparent finish, I really loved them, it is the first time I have ever had real feeling when looking at them. Maybe i’ll get brave a try a portrait.

    With thanks,

    1. Thanks Edith, pleased you’re feeling inspired to give portraits a go, hope it goes well.

  76. Hi Will,
    I was just beginning to get over a nasty bug and feeling low but wanting to do something but not knowing what and at a loss when your email arrived. Wow you certainly gave me plenty to think about!

    Can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your correspondence. Have to admit to being slightly jealous of your creative life and ever so grateful that you pass on your knowledge to those of us less blessed.

    I was in my late 50’s before I found the joy of painting, thanks to my wonderful husband who knows me better than I know myself and bought me some painting equipment one Christmas.

    I learned so much from you and still do 7 years on, you’re a wonderful teacher even though when you said anyone could paint I had my reservations but now I accept that yes, with education and willingness to learn you’re right and I can hardly believe what I achieve now.

    So a great big heartfelt thanks to you. I also love how you share snippets of your life with Vanessa, sounds idyllic. You’re a very giving soul and I hope the universe gives it back to you in spades! Best wishes to you and Vanessa.
    Sheila xx

    1. Morning Sheila, and what a lovely comment to receive, so pleased you’ve been finding inspiration in your painting and thanks for your very kind words. I do hope you’re feeling better and looking forward to your paintings for the new year, sounds like your husband is a great creative support. Have a great day Sheila (Vanessa says hi x)

  77. Absolutely gorgeous portrait, Will! Luminous. Makes me want to try oils.

    1. Thanks Oksanna, pleased you liked the portraits.

  78. Thank you! Really enjoyed this article !

  79. Wow this is what i am looking for.. the glazing bit, and yes you are so right join other art groups, its amazing what you learn, and how it influence’s your imagination and the ideas you get which you can add to your paintings to help get that wow feeling.
    thanks for the article really enjoyed it.

    1. Cheers Jennifer, glad you enjoyed it.

  80. Thank you. Very interesting article that will help increase my personal expression.

    1. Cheer Bernie, pleased you enjoyed it.

  81. Just want to wish you a great yr. 2016 WILL. I wish you also did live courses , I think you have great talent as a teacher !!! Wishing you the best ! Bertha

    1. Thanks very much Bertha, pleased you’ve been enjoying the teaching.

  82. I am intrigued by Bouguereau. Initially attracted to him by the painting of the nude female figure in the waves. I take it you’ll be doing a portrait course. YES!!! (fist pump).

    I have just stumbled upon the figurative paintings of Emilia Will, a Polish painter. I like her work very much. Dark colors on dark b.g. really sing.

    Best, Hardy

    1. Hey Hardy, good to hear from you and glad you’re looking forward to it.

  83. So glad I found this site. It is exactly what I’ve been looking for!

    1. Pleased you found it helpful Jane,

  84. Your article is a wealth of information. Looking forward to trying the techniques while doing portraits of my grandchildren and granddog. Thanks again.

    1. Good one Shirley, hope the painting goes well.

  85. What an interesting and inspiring account Will ! I enjoyed every word of this article. learned a couple of very important lessons namely using burnt umber and white, and shades created with those 2 as an underpaint for all the different values and introducing the actual colors last. The whole process layer by layer. I am definitely going to try this at my earliest.
    Looking forward to see your tutorial/lesson/demo on portrait painting as to how actually can be done that.

  86. Thank you. While I haven’t been painting particularly realistic portraits your comment about how the grey under painting showed through the lower jaw area may be the solution to a challenge I was having with a current painting.

    Many thanks (I am weary of repainting that one area– and will work as you’ve demonstrated : )

    1. Pleased it helped Quinne, good luck with your portrait.

  87. Hi Will,
    In general, in the colour glazing techniques for oil painting, is the oil color from the tube mixed with
    (1) 100% linseed oil
    (2) 100% turpentine
    (3) a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine?

    1. Hi Sam, it’s usually a mix of oil and turpentine.

  88. Thank you – found this very interesting, and when I recover from my mental block-out at present, I hope to be re-inspired by this article.

  89. Seems the right glazing could help me. ..

    I had been through your oil portrait lessons. A great help it was. . As always.
    1 question though. .
    For the face. .. step 1 with raw umber and titanium white-
    this ought to be done with oils or would you even recommend doing this 1 layer with acrylics and then build them further with oils? ??

    Question 2- using oils just out of the tube are denser than mixing them with turpentine.
    Or is it the other way round. Please clarify this point to me.

    Thanks in advance Will. Any painting assignment and iam stuck.. I know I can look up here and am always helped.

    Thank you so much. .

    1. Hi Arch, I do the raw umber and white ground with acrylics for speed of drying and then work with the burnt umber in oils. Oils straight from the tube are much stiffer, turpentine will cut through the oil and thin it down.

  90. ThankYou Will. Thanks so much for Always being of help.

    Yes. . I have stated with it and ‘am using Liquin. And I trust Liquin could be used in the second layers also. So if it is this technique as you have mentioned above, I did the foreground in raw umber n white combo using oils and a little liquin.
    So. . Going forward can i again simply use oil with turpentine only for glazing Or
    should I mix oil with turpentine and linseed? ?? Ps let me know.
    And to this .. Should I be using liquin again?

    1. Hi Arch, it depends on the speed of drying time you’re after, Liquin will always accelerate the drying time. For more traditional mediums you can see the different mediums I use at the different stages throughout this series: How to Paint an Oil Portrait

  91. Hi Will,
    It’s really inspiring article.thanks…

    1. Thanks Anupriya, glad you enjoyed it.

  92. I just start painting again after lots of years i didnt, And came across your youtube site.
    You will be my guide, just love so much your attitude. Thank you for giving a lots of from your professionality.

    1. Thanks Erez, pleased to have you onboard, hope you’re enjoying the tutorials.

  93. I would love to see a glazing class offered!

    1. Good one James, pleased you’re looking forward to it.

    2. Yes, me too!

  94. Wow! This is so cool! :D

    I admit I’m more of a digital painter, recently, and am more inclined to a pencil than a brush, but I recently decided to undertake a project requiring paint (painting over glass bottles, usually with some theme of a book or movie or series for myself + as gifts!) and, for at least one of them, I need to paint more realistic portraits, and I think this is just the style that’d look best/I could easily follow!

    (I remember back when I did the bottle project back in high-school (which is how I got the idea for now), which we had a few weeks to do, the times when I slowly built things up over time (especially with color) like the style you mentioned above is when it looked the best/like I actually knew what I was doing (I really didn’t), while when I more slabbed on paint or used thick strokes it looked amateur/looked like how one would expect I’d paint with my skill level)

    I just have one question; Would this technique work OK in acrylic paints as well? The paints I used back in high-school were student quality, and now I have the professional stuff (I even used some of your tips on what colors to get/how to properly mix colors! (Now I know why I always got those dumb browns/weird grays!I think that’s part of the reason why I never took to painting much; couldn’t get good colors!) I think they may work with this style, but I’m not too sure ‘

    Thank you for this and all your tips/writing, Good luck with your art, Have a wonderful day, and God Bless!! XD XD XD

    1. Hi Kayleigh, nice to hear from you and really pleased you’ve been enjoying the articles, yes, you can use acrylics for glazing, they can work really well. Using acrylic glazing liquid gloss helps to keep a good thin paint film for your glazes.

      Hope this helps,


  95. Hi Will!

    I have been your student for a while and did some of your lessons very successfully and I love them all. I also find your writing very lovely and interesting! Thank you for all that!
    I now try to do oil paintings without knowing anything about oil painting technique. So I am in trouble. I try to copy some simple works of well known or less known painters without much success. So far I encountered two questions that I can not solve.maybe you can help me please.
    Why when I try to paint white over other colors it seems white is being absorbed by other colors . I try over and over again but no results. I do not see much white.
    Another problem when I need to make little details looks like paint some kind of crumbles on thin brush and I can not make thin line. Is paint too thick?
    What is the best thing to use to make paint thiner? I tried linseed oil mixed with mineral spirit or liquin but I am not sure what is best and which one to use when.
    Maybe you can also suggest where to get some more video about oil painting basic. It would be also good if you could make one. I would buy it with pleasure!
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Irina, great to hear from you, to answer your questions:

      Why when I try to paint white over other colors it seems white is being absorbed by other colors

      Yes, if you’ve been working with acrylic you’ll notice a big difference in the ability to ‘cover over’ areas of oil painting with white. It can take a lot more paint, dry very slowly and as you’re usually painting wet into wet it will mix in with the colours around it and under it.

      Is paint too thick? What is the best thing to use to make paint thinner?

      Yes, the principles of diluting your acrylics to a good consistency for thin applications is the same for oils. You can dilute with a mineral spirit, such as OMS (odourless mineral spirit) or linseed oil, or usually mix a medium from a combination of the two.

      I don’t currently have a beginners course on oil painting but you can see this portrait series that goes through the process of building up an oil portrait and the various mixes at each stage. There is also a video course that goes through the process.

      Hope this helps,


      1. Will, thank you so much for your explanation. I always watch and read you lessons and articles and they are so helpful. I will follow your advise.

  96. I am halfway through your portraiture course which I love and highly recommend! Its introduced an approach that was foreign to me but has forever changed me as an artist. There were moments working through your course where I felt truly enlightened.

    Thank you for sharing your travels, your knowledge and your talent. I look forward to trying other courses and I’m excited about the new course to be release this year!

    The painting that leads this article is exquisite and I am a grateful student.

    1. Hi Jody, lovely to hear from you and so pleased you’ve enjoying working through the portrait course. Thanks for your kind words Jody and hope your painting from the course is going well.

  97. Hello Will ! Thankyou very much for the lovely tutorial !
    I have a question please !
    The 2 demonstrations you did in this post, were both of them done over multiple sessions, letting each layer dry in between ?
    If yes, then how is it possible to ”fuse” the edges together as the underlayers are dry ?

    the self portrait on this page by Bouguereau looks a lot like how sargent would paint which is more like alla prima ?

    also when will you be out with the portrait glazing course ?

    thanks !

    1. Thanks Rohit, with dry brushing you just apply the brush with lighter strokes to create the illusion of a blend, the colour glazing oil portrait course should be live mid May/June.

  98. Dear Will,
    This year I decided to learn how to oil paint and luckily found your ‘grisaille’ tutorial – it guided me through my first oil painting, and the results were good, so now I want to learn exactly how to do the above – move from the black & white or brown underpainting and build up colour in glazes for a luminous, porcelaine effect. I can see lots of people above begging for a course, me too! Is it coming soon?
    Best, Jo

    1. Hi Jo, nice to hear from you and so pleased you found the grisaille tutorial helpful, yes it’s in the edit at the moment, looking at mid-May/early June release, pleased you’re excited about the new course.

  99. Your writings of your artistic “adventure” were so interesting and inspiring. I have learned quite a lot from your tutorials. I have been very frustrated as of late, trying to focus on one medium and not being so scattered. They all have their good aspects and not so good limitations. But I know the best thing is to stay at it and not give up and throw all my paints in the closet! Thank you for encouraging all artists out there to try something new…….you never know where it will lead you.

    1. Good one Ruth, pleased you’ve been enjoying the site, you’ll find all the different mediums can help out in your different paintings, learning watercolours can help teach about glazing with oils, working with acrylic gels can help influence impasto work with oils and classical oil methods can introduce you to new techniques with acrylics. So you’re scattered approach may not be as scattered as you think as all the methods and techniques feed into each other.
      Hope this helps,


  100. Hello Mr. Kemp,

    Fortuitously, I came across your article on the glazing technique of Bouguereau almost at random. I have been studying Bouguereau’s paintings for several decades and it took me quite a while to figure out that he was using transparent glazing, especially in his later paintings. I have read many articles about his works by well known and accomplished painters who were totally unaware of this. You are the first artist I have come across that has addressed this subject. Thank you so much for the demonstration. I am very curious. Where did you learn this technique, and do you know of any other artists who are knowledgeable about Bouguereau’s glazing methods?

    1. Hi Steven,
      So pleased you found the article of interest. If you have a search for ‘Bouguereau at Work, by Mark Waller’ he’s got some great insights to his working method.

  101. Hi Will
    Thank you for all your insight about portrait ,always so helpful! I just now have time to follow up for comments and to say hi. Traveling takes so much time and energy out of me,i was visiting family in Chile S.A. I am getting ready to take my brushes again and try
    new method painting portraits ,you are a real inspiration to me !!!

    1. You’re more than welcome Cecilia, pleased you’re feeling inspired.

  102. Thank you for your tutorials, this is generous of you. I have followed them with interest – looking forward to the tutorial on color glazing you mentioned!
    Cheers from Paris,

    1. My pleasure Christian, really pleased you enjoyed it, yes, the glazing course is coming on well, should be posting out new info on the launch in the next few weeks.

  103. Very interesting… funny how slight changes can bring about great breakthroughs… thanks for sharing Will!!

    1. Thanks Shelly, pleased you enjoyed it.

  104. Thanks Will for another inspiring article. I really enjoy your approach to helping yourself and helping others.

    1. Cheers John, really pleased you enjoyed the article.

  105. That was a wonderfully written post, it carried me off to the land of inspiration. I look forward to the coffee and biscuit.
    I am planning on taking your online classes soon, I’m really looking forward to it.

    1. Thanks very much Fiona, so pleased you enjoyed it, and a new inspiration for a brew and biscuit is always a good result!

  106. As always a wonderful write-up. You should consider publishing your book :) A best seller amongst avid and amateur artists..
    I would like to ask you about using Siccatives. Have you ever used them on your portraits?? And what is the proportion to be used exactly, Liquin and the paint??

    Would appreciate your response. Thank you so much..

    1. Thanks Archana, pleased you enjoyed it, yes, I use Liquin as a siccative to speed the drying of traditional oil paints. The proportions vary depending on if you’re working in layers (in-direct painting) or in one go (alla-prima) I use Liquin throughout the portrait glazing course. Winsor and newton recommendations are 1 part Liquin to 2 parts Oil Colour, but I find it’s a much more forgiving medium and you can push those ratios.

      Hope this helps,


  107. Hi Will, Thanks for your blog. I’ve been painting with acrylics – always – and inherited my grandmother’s oils. They mostly look dried up, cracked tubes, crumbling everywhere… It’s a mess. I have 2 questions for you: Is there a way to salvage the old oil paints? And how do I switch from painting with acrylics to painting with oils (is it really as different as I’ve been told)? Thanks.

  108. Dear Will.

    Can you tell me if it is possible to do a portrait painting with just acrylics starting with a gray canvas and doing a whole black and white mono chrome to serve as an underpainting. Somehow when it comes to portraits Oils are always used. Cannot the whole be done with acrylics?

    Thanks very much for everything

    1. Hi Joseph, nice to hear from you, yes, it can be done with acrylics but when you’re first starting the slow drying time of oils can be very beneficial for subtle blending of colours. You can try painting the same portrait on a small scale, one with acrylics, one with oils and test to see which medium you prefer.


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