Common Problems with Portrait Painting
- Including a painting pigment labelled “flesh tint” or “flesh hue” Within the artist’s palette, creating an idealistic impression of how skin should look.
- Using black or a dirty earth colour to darken the flesh colour
- Painting with presumptions about how skin should look, for example by mixing red with white
- Using delicate tones throughout, resulting in a bleached out or flat portrait
- Forgetting to observe the subject matter whilst painting, falling into the habit of simply finishing the painting
- Painting lines to delineate facial features, for instance, wrinkles or cheekbones
The following simple measures will help the portrait artist with improving the practice of portrait painting.
- Skin colours contains the most unexpected hues, such as violets, crimsons and even greens, which can be seen on reflections from neighbouring objects
- Similarly, skin often contain deep tones, some of which may appear almost black. Adding a cool colour, such as blue or violet, will darken the skin colour more effectively than black
- Dispense with black altogether except for painting pupils. Similarly, dispense with “flesh tint” or such hues that merely reinforce the idea that skin “should” be beige or pink.
- Mix the flesh colour from scratch by using no more than three colours and white
- Prior to painting the portrait, apply a neutral coloured under-wash of thin acrylic paint to kill the off-putting white of the painting surface
- Paint the skin colours prior to the features, such as eyes and lips, as these colours could contaminate the delicate skin colours
- Try painting an isolated feature such as the nose or lips, to get to grips with flesh colours before having a go at the entire portrait
- Complete the portrait in several stages. Don’t try to rush it at the end when tired, or this will ruin the painting
- Accept that the portrait will make little sense until it is completed
- Going over the portrait painting two or three times is sometimes necessary to make tonal and colour adjustments
All portraiture should have the same approach. Facial features often consist of subtle changes in tone and colour, which beginners perceive to be linear. Children’s faces seldom have lines, only subtle shadows and shifts in hue. Similarly, wrinkles are not simply lines, but are subtle marks. Half closing the eyes and standing back from the portrait will help the artist garner the most important aspects of a portrait, as opposed to sitting too close to the photograph and illustrating each eyelash.
Art Demo on Painting Shadows on Skin
My youtube clip below shows how I painted Vermeer's The Pearl Earring via underpainting and then shading techniques in oil on top. Notice the heavy shadows on the near side of the face, which almost equals the darkness of the background.
Essential Art Materials for Painting Portraits
Links Relating to Portrait Painting