Do you feel ready to start painting faces, but aren't sure where to start? Would you like to know how to transition from drawing to painting faces in a way that isn't too overwhelming?
In this post, I will share the three great tips that will help you succeed in portrait painting a lot faster and will help you move your skills forward incrementally. Painting faces in a believable manner (or any part of the human figure) is complex, as you need to have a high level of knowledge in regards to proportions, as well as how to mix skin colors, how to create a large variety of color values, how to paint different textures, etc.
Not to mention, even non-artists are able to tell when something is off in a portrait drawing or painting, as we see faces most throughout the day.
For a thorough explanation on facial proportions and a step-by-step tutorial on drawing believable faces, read my blog post How to Draw a Face (for Beginners).
Key Tips to Apply When Starting to Paint Portraits
*These tips apply for any kind of painting medium.
1. Always use a good reference photo and observe it CONSTANTLY throughout your painting process
Try to find one that has a good image resolution and interesting lighting. Even if your goal is not to create a painting or a drawing that looks like a specific person, it is always going to be helpful to have an image to look at throughout the process. This will help you establish realistic values and proportions.
2. It's essential for you to have a good amount of practice drawing realistic faces before attempting to paint a portrait
The only reason why I did a semi-decent job in my first portrait oil painting is because I have studied facial proportions for years and have a relatively good amount of practice drawing them. Only through time spent observing and practicing will one start developing an eye for what looks good and what is off.
I once read that, since we humans look at faces probably more than anything else on a daily basis, anyone would be able to tell if something is slightly off with a portrait when they see it, even if they can't exactly pinpoint what it is. You NEED an effective sketch to start a painting off with. Or be such a pro that you have realistic proportions/angles engrained in your head so well that you can go in with your paintbrush right away. I wish to get to this point someday!
3. Once you feel ready to try your luck at your first portrait painting, do it in grayscale
This takes away the need to create realistic skin tones if you are not yet at this point. It is better to take the learning process step-by-step! Keep in mind that, aside from facial proportions, the other important element behind creating realistic art is the effective use of color values.
I recommend focusing on setting up a palette with a variety of gray values, from lightest or darkest, and then making sure to place the different tonal values in appropriate places. I used odorless mineral spirits and Gamsol to thin out my paints and do blending. I really recommend this grayscale exercise.
I recommend moving on to color only after you have achieved effective form with grayscale. Once you have value placement down, you can practice creating skin tones and completing a face in color!
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Have you ever tried painting a portrait before? What do you find most difficult? I'd LOVE to hear from you in the comments section below!
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