Useful Portrait Painting Techniques for Beginners

Useful Portrait Painting Techniques for Beginners

The ability to paint portraits is probably one of the most sought-after skills in an artist. When you tell your friends that you’ve been dabbling in painting, they’re most likely going to ask, “Can you do a painting of me”? Portraits have been painted since antiquity; in the beginning they were created for ceremonial reasons and as a means of documentation, making portrait painting techniques essential for all painters. As time passed, they were made for more personal and sentimental reasons.

If you plan on learning how to paint lifelike portraits, here are some useful portrait painting techniques for beginners.

The foremost of portrait painting techniques is remembering that the human figure follows a number of set proportions. An adult’s height is usually seven times that of the distance from his crown to his chin. This is the same distance from his chin to his chest, from the chest to the waist, and from the waist to the pelvic region. Da Vinci’s Vetruvian man is usually the figure to reference when working with human proportions. Take note that babies and children have markedly different proportions; their heads are larger in relation to the rest of their bodies so you might have to use four to five heads instead of seven.

Facial features also follow set proportions, although it is the slight variations in these that make each human face unique. The head is generally egg-shaped and divided into three sections of equal length from crown to brow, brow to nose and nose to chin.

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Once you’ve sketched in the subject’s features and followed the proportions as a guide, it’s time to think about putting on the paint and color. Good portrait painting techniques direct you to fill in large areas of color first, and then work in the shadows. It’s better to mix your own colors for the skin rather than use pre-packaged flesh tints as these can look rather flat. Caucasian skin contains pink, white and blue pigments, while olive skin contains ochres and yellows in addition. African skin can contain both ochres and blues.

When rendering the hair, make sure you don’t paint individual strands. Treat the head of hair as a whole, and add shadows, low lights and high lights as necessary. This will result in a soft, realistic texture that will do much towards making your picture come alive. Finally, one of the most common portrait painting techniques to check for balance and proportion is to look at your painting in a mirror or turn it upside down. This will help you identify any flaws in composition.