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How to Paint a Portrait in Oils – Timelapse Video

How to paint a black & white portrait in Oils

This is a time-lapse video of a classical approach to a black & white grisaille portrait painting.

It accompanies a free series of 5 step by step, portrait tutorials.
Click here to read How to paint a portrait in Oil : Part 1

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oils – Timelapse Video

The 3 Reasons Why You Can’t Draw

drawingcourseonline

And What to Do About It

Sometimes you can’t figure it out.

It seems no matter how hard you try, how intensely you look at a subject, your drawings look wrong.

You’ve read how to draw books, maybe gone to a few art classes, but the art of drawing still seems to elude you.

And you begin to question yourself – What if it’s me? What if I don’t have enough talent?

What if I’m never going to improve?

You are not alone.

Understanding drawing can be the key to your artistic success and a new, razor-sharp creative mind, but it can seem like an uphill struggle.

But what if there was a simple solution? Pieces to the puzzle that you didn’t know existed,

3 secrets that could instantly improve your drawing and painting?

Wouldn’t you give it a try?..

Continue ReadingThe 3 Reasons Why You Can’t Draw

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 5 of 5

how to paint a tonal portrait with colour strings

How to paint a portrait series. This is part 5 of a 5 part series of tutorials for beginners making the transition from drawing to oil painting.

We look at how importance value and tone are in creating a realistic black and white portrait using classical oil painting techniques.

Here is a quick review of what we have covered so far if you’d like to join in…

Part 1 – Establishing the drawing, including the shadow line.

Part 5 – Finishing & Glazing

mixing damar varnish medium

The next medium to use is a simple mix of 1 part Dammar varnish: 1 part Linseed oil.

If you don’t have dammar varnish just add a bit more linseed oil to the previous mix. The varnish is fatter than the odourless mineral spirit but leaner than pure linseed oil.

Oil paint medium recipes

I have tried to keep the mediums in this demonstration as simple as possible because when I was first starting, I became obsessed with trying down track down the ‘medium of the old masters’ as I was convinced this would be the missing ingredient in my paintings.

It wasn’t.

I’ll go into more detail on the different recipes you can use in mediums for oils in a future post.

The greatest advancements in your own paintings, especially if you’re making the transition from drawing, will come from simple principles.

These aren’t glamorous, or shiny and new, but waiting for the ‘right’ brush, or the perfect medium will slow down your progress due to time and energy wasted searching for an answer rather than actually painting. Start simply with solid colour and flat tones and progress from there.

using skinned over oil p

Reusing Old Oil Paint

The first thing I do is put pressure onto the old blobs of paint on my palette, this bursts the paint skin and gives me access to the paint underneath. As I mentioned in the steps last week there are a variety of ways of keeping your oils fresh between painting sessions, and the paint can go slightly thicker using the method above, but as it’s at the final stage of the painting I’m happy to use it. Just use your own judgement if the mix feels okay.

At this stage of the painting, we are going to redefine some of the edges and check our drawing. Painting is a process of constant refinement and our fresh eyes are often our best judge.

how to paint a nose in oil paint

I then start to readdress some of the shapes using a round sable, as before when the paint goes on, it will feel like it sits on-top of the paint underneath rather than blending in, so I apply the paint knowing that I will be using a soft dry sable to blend and fuse the edges.

I work around all of the features redefining the shapes and subtly altering the tones.

how to paint a portrait in oils

I also add dark accents to the darkest points in the portrait, these can look a bit ‘stuck on’ but I will be softening them shortly.

glazing with oil paint

What is a Glaze?

A glaze is a method of altering the colour and tone of an underpainting by applying a thin translucent layer of paint. The best pigments for a clear glaze are the translucent pigments, as with all colours, the glaze will appear warmer when painted thinly, so classically painters like Vermeer used to start with a highly finished grisaille (a monochromeunderpainting) and then apply layers of colour in the form of glazes.

So, I then mix a thin consistency of paint using the blackest mix, to use as a glaze. This will be the most translucent as it contains none of the Titanium white (which is an opaque white)

If you were painting with the Flake white, you can make a more semi-opaque veil of colour to adjust areas in tone. This is called a ‘Velatura’ in Italian.

adding black accents
a black and white portrait

Focus in portraits

You have control of the viewers gaze, well a certain amount of control. We are always drawn towards eyes and contrasting colours. James Gurney has done some interesting eye tracking studies on some of his own paintings. Notice how the viewer focuses on the face.

For this painting, I keep the eyes sharper and more detailed and the lips and chin softer.

You then need to look to check the edges, are they too soft or too hard. I purposely leave the eyes and nose sharper in focus than the mouth.

adding ivory black to the shadows

Adding dark accents

Now I squeeze out some of the Ivory blacks and use this diluted with a tiny amount of medium to the very darkest areas of the portrait

painting high lights on the eye

Adding catchlights

With the fine sable round, I dot in highlights around the eye, this can really add a punch to the eye and make them stand out from the rest of the features.

raw umber and ivory black portrait

A Word of Warning…

This doesn’t just happen with one quick swift movement of the brush. As we get into more details of the face there is more room for mistakes and the drawing to go out. It’s amazing how a little change in movement or shape can change the sitter’s look, feel and emotion.

Sometimes you’ll be so close to finishing the painting, then go for one final brushstroke – only for it to go out and you are back to square 1, or so it feels.

This is where the Filbert sables become your best friends, they’re soft and you can subtlety blend edges and not make too drastic changes.

darkening down background for contrast

Darkening the background

 After looking at the portrait, I felt I could go darker onto the background. I quite like the Raw umber on its own but wanted to show you how much the background can affect your subject.

I use a thin mix of Raw umber and Ivory black and apply it to the background, much like the initial stage when we were just using the Raw umber. I use the number 4 Ivory Filbert to scrub the paint in, I don’t mind if the mix goes over the edge of the hair as it helps to blend it in and bring the face forward.

Notice how the lights suddenly look lighter due to the change in contrast we have created by adding a darker background to the portrait.

background before blending
finished black and white portrait

Reviewing the Process of Light and Shadow.

  •  The power of a single light source – The old masters used the effectiveness of a single light source to great effect. It is one of the best ways to create depth and form in your paintings, especially in portraits. You’ll find the more light you have on the face the harder it will be to create the illusion of depth.
  • Flat shadow area – These can be broadly split initially into two area, lights and darks. By simplifying the shadow line shape you can quickly establish a form. Just using simple, flat tones
  • Leaving the details for later – When you are first beginning you will notice areas of reflected light and details in the shadows. If you learn to resist painting these in, it will help so much in your progress as a painter. You can create a really powerful portrait really simply without having a photorealist finish.
  • Keeping your edges soft – I keep the edges soft and only sharpen the areas I want the viewer to focus on. This is a Classical technique to create the illusion of realism.
  • Work from Large forms to Small forms – It will be tempting to paint the eyes as soon as you begin, but getting the general shapes and modelling the form will pay dividends later in the painting. Adding the white highlights should be left until the end.
  • Glazing for subtlety –  When you first start using glazes they can be addictive and if you’re not careful, you can end up with the ‘Tom Jones’ effect ( see – How to choose a basic portrait palette for oils) so tread carefully and they can give some amazing results.

So now we have the finished painting, I could, of course, carry on refining with glazes to get a more realist finish.

However, as an impressionist starting point when working with Oils, I am happy to leave it at this stage and sometimes with paintings, it’s knowing when to stop that’s the hardest bit.

If you have any questions about painting a black and white portrait, let me know in the comments below. Students have been achieving some fantastic results, I’d love to hear how anybody else has got on.

If you want to learn about how to add colour glazes to a grisaille you might enjoy the colour portrait oil glazing video course.

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 5 of 5

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 4 of 5

black & white portrait painting techniques

How to paint a portrait series. This is part 4 of a 5 part series of tutorials for beginners making the transition from drawing to oil painting.

We look at how important value and tone are in creating a realistic black and white portrait using classical oil painting techniques.

Here is a quick review of what we have covered so far if you’d like to join in…

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 4 of 5

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 3 of 5

portraittutorial translucent oils

“When you come back to your painting you’ll notice how the oil has become translucent overnight and won’t have the same coverage that you first thought.”

How to paint a portrait series. This is part 3 of a 5 part series of tutorials for beginners making the transition from drawing to oil painting.

Here is a quick review of what we have covered so far if you’d like to join in…

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 3 of 5

How to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 1 of 5

portrait painting techniques

(I now have a 6+hr Oil Portrait Video Course that covers a distilled grisaille process and full-colour glazing demos for two portraits. You can watch a video intro on this page : Oil Portrait Glazing Course)

How to paint a black & white portrait in Oils

Have you been practising your portrait drawing for years, yet making the jump to oil portrait painting always seems to end in an underwhelming finish?

Or do you walk around portrait galleries in awe with the question, ‘How do they do that?’

Maybe you’re frustrated by your process and don’t know how to change it.

Portraits can seem like the toughest subject to crack, and your efforts can easily dishearten you. One wrong brushstroke can cause a subject to suddenly look ‘wrong’, panic sets in – your pencils get sharpened, charcoal out and you don’t come back to painting for a while.

But you don’t want to draw anymore, you want to paint.

So, where do you begin?

Continue ReadingHow to Paint a Portrait in Oil – Part 1 of 5

A Beginners Guide to Colour Strings

colour strings oil painting

…and How to Paint Quicker

When you first start painting, the vision is to squeeze out bright, vivid paint colours, a handful of paintbrushes, or maybe a beret?

But often, this approach is an illusion, an artist myth.

To get professional results, you need a professional approach.

If you want freedom and expression on the canvas, a bit of premixing can help you achieve more pleasing results, especially if you try to achieve a more realistic effect.

If you spend a little extra time preparing, your actual time at the easel will be more efficient, quicker and rewarding.

Let’s enter the world of colour strings…

Continue ReadingA Beginners Guide to Colour Strings

Beginners Acrylic Still Life Course – Part 3 & 4

Still life cherry final stages

Part 3 & 4 of this 4 part series for beginners to acrylic painting

The first thing I do is to add some thicker paint to the main area of the cherry. This helps to reinforce the colour and is the time you can start to use thicker paint on top of the thinner underpainting we’ve already established.

I then glaze over parts of the cherry with the Alizarin Crimson & Burnt Umber mix. As both of these paints have a transparent nature – they are perfect for adjusting hues using thin layers of acrylics.

I then begin painting in the reflective light. This is the light that has bounced off the white of the table and is adding a subtle glow to the bottom edge of the cherry…

Continue ReadingBeginners Acrylic Still Life Course – Part 3 & 4

New Absolute Beginners Drawing Class

Absolute Beginners Drawing Course

Sketch by Will Kemp, whilst eating gelato in Rome

Step-by-step Online drawing instruction course

I’m developing a New Absolute Beginners Drawing Class to help aspiring artists to fulfill their creative potential.

If you’re here from Lateral Action 7 ways learning to draw can improve your productivity then hello!

The reason I’m creating this easy to follow, on-line video course is to help frustrated artists find a way to express themselves by drawing with confidence.

With over 3 hours of tuition from Will, you can go on a creative journey to discover that you can pick up a pencil, wherever, whenever and actually start drawing…

Continue ReadingNew Absolute Beginners Drawing Class

How to Use Acrylic Gels & Mediums (video)

acrylicgelmediums

Do you feel you should be using mediums?

You’ve probably brought a couple and had a play around, but are you using the right ones?

Or is the overuse of mediums doing more harm than good?

Acrylic mediums can change the consistency of acrylic paint and allow you more flexibility and creative freedom than any other type of paint.

The trick is to use the right ones for the right situation.

What is the difference between gels & mediums?

Gels are usually used thickly, to keep shapes and add texture.

Mediums are pourable and used to thin out paints and give the Acrylics extra working time for blending…

Continue ReadingHow to Use Acrylic Gels & Mediums (video)

The 3 Steps to Becoming a Better Painter, by Painting Less

acrylic still life painting course Ever wonder where you’re supposed to find the time to paint?

If you’re trying to paint in your spare time, it can seem impossible.

You’re already struggling just to find a clear space and get your paints set out and sometimes you can’t even manage that.

You want to work on your colour mixing, try a new paint colour, and definitely do some more sketchbook work, but you also have a job, family, friends — responsibilities that are just more important.

And so you wonder: should you just keep going, doing the best you can?

Or is there a strategy you can use that doesn’t require so much time and achieves better results?

Continue ReadingThe 3 Steps to Becoming a Better Painter, by Painting Less

Absolute Beginner Acrylic Landscape Painting Techniques – 4/4

limited palette complementary colors

The final part of this 4 part series – Beginners Acrylic Landscape Painting

This is the final stage of the painting. I now add some of the pure Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson to achieve the richer colours needed.

The pink in the sky is just a mix of Alizarin Crimson and White. Make sure you start with the white (Titanium White) and add the crimson to it, little by little.

You will only need a small amount to create the pink…

Continue ReadingAbsolute Beginner Acrylic Landscape Painting Techniques – 4/4