Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Portrait painting -- How to Paint a Portrait -- Part 1

The above is a close up view of a portrait I painted last year. Portrait painting is often seen as the hardest area in which an artist can focus. The skills required to achieve a likeness and maintain it as the painting progresses are often seen as insurmountable, causing many to never consider the genre. From my limited experience of portrait painting to date, having taken lessons from a professional artist and also acquired some knowledge from books -- there is a definite way to approach a portrait which can simplify the work involved. This post is just an initial look at what is involved in starting a portrait.

First the drawing needs to be in the right place on the canvas. For a child it can be better to leave more space than the usual above the head. This extra space allows the feeling that the child is small. For an adult's portrait you can just position in the normal way, as per most portraits you see in museums or galleries.

Initial drawing is key. Although you can refine the drawing to a huge degree as you paint, the important part is to carefully get the distance between the features accurate. The distances between eyes, and from nose to mouth and nose to eyes, and height of eyebrows, forehead height and position of ears relative to the eyes, these are all key to creating the likeness.

So the initial stage in creating the likeness is to position the features very accurately. Short of using a blown up photo and tracing it onto the canvas, (using carbon paper or charcoal) - the artist can draw these features freehand if they are very careful to continuously check the position of each line they draw in relation to all previous lines. Check for length of the line, the angle and curves of it, the distance of the extremities of each line you draw from the surrounding lines already drawn. This is the mindset of a freehand artist. Work on the outline shape of the head first if you find it easier, but sometimes I start with the eyes. Then proceed down to the nose and mouth. Then I can see the face easier how wide it should be or thin and height as well.
For beginners it might be better to have the lips together, no teeth.

One idea is to draw onto a paper such as see-through grease-proof paper and then you can move this over the canvas to position it. Then transfer it on using carbon or charcoal. Working on paper allows easier correction of mistakes as it is hard to erase lines of pencil from a canvas. A charcoal pencil is probably the best to draw straight onto canvas as it brushes off, just be carefull of your hand smudging it as you work, or else use a thin amount of raw umber oil paint with a very small brush, which is what I often use. The oil drawing is easily erased with a cloth and some white spirits.

So to get the likeness -- first the distances between features helps a lot. Get them accurate. Next is the shape of each feature. Concentrate on looking at each and say - what shape is that? Is it a thin lip or straight or curvy and draw the shape as you see it not as you think you see it. By this I mean, in the few seconds between looking and going to draw it, the mind holds the shape within and you "know" what way to draw it. But in those few seconds if you "forget" or are unsure even slightly about what you are about to draw, you must not draw. You need to look again. Keep the distance between the drawing and the reference photo close as this helps many people.

This should improve your drawing ability and so distance and shape of features should get a fair way towards the likeness. Next you need to look at complexion and colour...But for today I will end at this, and post again on that as there is a huge amount involved in that area. Check back for more posts on this soon Jim

1 comment:

Gexton said...

awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really sweet!
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