In terms of subjects, painting portraits is one of the most challenging and rewarding. A portrait represents someone’s physical features, character and personality, usually in oil or acrylics.
Portraits can be difficult because faces are some of the hardest subjects to draw accurately.
As an artist, you want to create a painting that conveys the sitter’s characteristics and emotions and makes it look like them!
The fear of painting portraits
You might have been practising your portrait drawing for years, yet making the jump to paint always seems to end in an underwhelming finish.
Or do you walk around galleries in awe with the question, ‘How do they do that?’ 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 dishearten you. One wrong brushstroke can cause a subject to look ‘wrong’, panic sets in – your pencils get sharpened, charcoal out, and you don’t come back to portrait painting for a while!
But you don’t want to draw anymore; you want to paint.
How do I start painting portraits?
Below are tutorials, articles, and ideas to start your journey.
One of the best places to start is the black-and-white portrait series. This is a classical technique called Grisaille. Value and tone are the foundation of all great paintings.
You’ll learn about the materials, techniques, brushes and canvas to help you start. It’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide to portrait painting for beginners with oil, from sketching to adding the final touches. (It’s based on a photo, so you can download it to follow along.)
Once you’re ready to move into colour, I have more advanced tutorials, an Acrylic Portrait Painting Course and Oil Painting Portrait Glazing Course. These courses teach you how to get the most out of colour, light, and form to capture a likeness and tell the sitter’s story through paint.
How to Paint an Oil Portrait – Part 1 of 5
How to use classical oil painting techniques to build up a Grisaille portrait
How a Few Small Changes Influenced my Portrait Painting Style
How a change in environment can give you breakthroughs in your painting progress
Studying Holbein's Portrait Drawings: A Brief Encounter
Exhibition review of a selection of Hans Holbein portraits
Discovering Zorn, the Petit Palais & Patisseries in Paris
A retrospective exhibition in Paris of the Swedish painter Anders Zorn
How to Glaze an Oil Portrait Course Course
This oil glazing course for beginners looks specifically at colour glazing techniques, building up two full colour portraits
How to Paint Acrylic Portraits
This acrylic portrait course works on 3 different colour portraits, developing your portrait skills and learning how to achieve classical looking portraits with acrylics
Van Gogh Self Portraits at The Courtauld, London
Exhibition Review of Van Gogh Portraits, shown together for the first time at the Courtauld Institute, London
Exploring St Michael's Mount, the Castle & Recovered Portraits
Exploring landscapes, portraits and magical causeways