Portrait Painting: A First

As a self-taught painter, I have always found portrait painting a bit intimidating. A landscape or still life can easily be stylized and highly interpretive. While a portrait can be both of those things as well, it either bears an identifiable resemblance to the subject or it doesn’t. So, although painting human figures and faces has always been a great interest of mine, I’ve put off ever trying my hand (and brush) at this feat until recently. I found it liberating to try something new and was pleased with the results of my first portrait.

For a subject I chose my sister, Erica. I thought it might be easy to start with a face I was very familiar with, so I selected a photo of her that I had taken previously as a painting reference. Here is the photo.

Reference Photo: The background was made one solid color for simplicity

In wanting to make this more of a portrait study rather than a finished product, I used canvas paper instead of stretched canvas. I outlined the main contours onto the canvas paper in pencil. I threw a quick grid over the image in Photoshop and transferred that grid to my canvas to ensure proportions were reasonable. I don’t usually like to work this way, but I figured I’d try it out on my first portrait.

Contour Sketch: A little hard to see.

Next, I just started moving section by section, color blocking and refining transitions.

Here is the final product. I used Golden Heavy Body Acrylics for this project as that has become a preferred medium of mine recently. I appreciate the thick rich color and body that reminds me of oils, but with the convenience of a quick drying time that comes with a water based paint. Although there are some contours and color choices that I wouldn’t mind changing, I really try not to overwork a project so I will bring what worked well and what didn’t into my next project.

It was a lot of fun to paint and I can’t wait to try out a second portrait. Thanks for reading and happy painting!

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