Tutorials

Below are some life painting studies I did in oils. I've included work-in-progress shots and a description of my materials and process. Enjoy!

"Marge" 3-Hour Portrait Sketch



Palette: water-mixable oils
Titanium white
Cad yellow
Cad yellow light
Yellow ochre
Raw sienna
Burnt sienna
Alizeron crimson
Burnt umber
Raw umber
Light green

Brushes
#4-6 soft flats
#12 flat bristle
#8 bristle bright and bristle round
#2 soft filbert
#5 fan brush

Supports
Fredrix Medium Texture Artists Canvas Pad 12x16"

Mediums
Water
Winsor and Newton Water Mixable Oil Painting Medium

Process
I started by scrubbing in a flesh tone of white, burnt sienna, cadmium red and cadmium yellow with a large round brush. I then loosely painted the shadow shapes and hair with burnt sienna using a flat brush. Neither the colors nor the likeness are even close to being accurate at this point, but I have the basic layout of the head and features I can continue to work into:



Next I painted the darkest darks, the hair, with raw and burnt umber, and the lightest lights (the left side of the forehead and the upper cheek) with lots of white and a bit of cadmium yellow and red. This established the outside limits of a value range for me to work within.

I also added some color notes I wanted present in the painting. These included cooler green tones in the lower half of the face and the edge of the forehead (they appear grayish in the photo), and reds and oranges in the eyes, cheeks, ear lobe and lips. The planes of the face are starting to emerge and I've corrected some of the facial proportions:



I continue to refine the features - modifying the jaw line, and some gentle blending to create soft transitions between the planes of the face. I think the head is looking more 3-dimensional at this stage:



I'm moving my focus to the individual features, painting more details in the eye socket, nose and folds of the ear. I'm also starting some edge work around the hairline:



The person painting in front of me in the studio leaves, so I get an opportunity to move closer to the model. I'm now able to see the shadowed side of her face much better. I totally refine the contour there, slightly exaggerating some of the lines to make the figure more expressive. I add highlights in the hair by removing paint with a wet brush:



Time is running out! To finish up, I paint hair over the top of the ear to avoid completing it (a cheat). I also correct the shape of the right eye:





"Bruce" 3-Hour Portrait Sketch



Palette: water-mixable oils
Titanium white
Cad yellow
Cad yellow light
Cad orange
Cad red light
Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna
Alizeron crimson
Burnt umber
Raw umber
Ultramarine blue

Brushes
Mostly #8 and up bristle round and flat brushes, a fan brush

Supports
9x12 Deserres Canvas Board

Mediums
Water
Winsor and Newton Water Mixable Oil Painting Medium

Process


Above you can see the beginning stage of my painting, where I've placed the shadow shapes of the face with a mix of mostly burnt sienna, burnt umber and white. Ben's dark hair is raw umber (which has less red tones than burnt umber) and white. I tried something different to paint the side of his face that was in the light: though his skin color was very warm, I laid down a base with some grey in it by adding a touch of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. I did this so that when I placed the reds and yellows on top they'd stand out more and hopefully appear more vivid. Let's see if it worked...



I think so. See how the reds along his forehead and nose pop out? I kept the grey in the bottom half of his face and exaggerated it more to create the five o'clock shadow look.



Next I added in the ear and fixed up the chin and nose.



The eye in shadow is really hard for me to see when I'm painting from life. I walked up to Ben a few times to get a closer look, also checking the fold around his nostrils and his upper lip. This is what I came up with.

I dabbed cerulean blue with white in a few places to add subtle, cool highlights in the shadow areas (see under his left eye, and on either side of the chin). I also placed some of this blue mix on the side of his face closer to the light, to build further contrast with the reds and yellows (e.g. under his right eye).



"Marilyn" 3-Hour Portrait Sketch



Palette: water-mixable oils
Titanium white
Cad yellow
Cad yellow light
Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna
Alizeron crimson
Burnt umber
Raw umber
Ultramarine blue

Brushes
Mostly #8 and up bristle round and flat brushes, a fan brush and a few little #2 soft synthetic rounds for details

Supports
9x12 Deserres Canvas Board

Mediums
Water
Winsor and Newton Water Mixable Oil Painting Medium

Process


So you can see several things going on at this early stage of the painting. Shapes and placement of features are blocked in, as well as the lights, mid-tones and darks. Lights are created with lots of white, some cad yellow and a touch of cad red. Mid-tones are white, yellow ochre, cad red and a dab of cerulean blue. Shadows, mostly a mix of burnt umber and white with a bit of raw umber.

The hair is alizeron crimson for the dyed portion and raw umber for the natural dark. I always try to have a splash of red on the chin, nose, cheeks and tops of the ears, whether the color's there or not in reality. A mix of cad red, white and cad yellow, with a drop of alizeron, makes for a decent blush.


The model had a very delicate, porcelain-light complexion, so I toned down the orange-yellow cast I had at first with some blending (which can mute and cool the existing colors), and by adding more white. This also created soft transitions between the darks and lights, for a sense of volume. I started shaping the nose, mouth and left eye - not sure why I didn't get to the right eye yet...


Oh, there it is!

At this point, too, I changed the contour along the right side of the face. See how the variation between soft and hard edges can give the sense of a facial feature either receding or coming forward? Good edge work can help establish volume (a perception of three dimensions) and interest in your painting.

Here, I've modified the painted nose to more closely resemble the model's, and worked to shape detail in the left eye.



One thing I'm trying to get away from in my sketches and figure studies are hard vertical lines. They make a painting look very stiff. So I went back in at the end here, adding diagonal brush strokes to the hair and softening the lines of the neck.



"Claire" 3-Hour Portrait Sketch



Palette: water-mixable oils
Titanium white
Cad yellow
Cad yellow light
Cad orange
Cad red light
Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna
Alizeron crimson
Burnt umber
Raw umber
Ultramarine blue

Brushes
Mostly #8 and up bristle round and flat brushes, a fan brush, and a few little #2 soft synthetic rounds for details

Supports
9x12 Deserres Canvas Board

Mediums
Water
Winsor and Newton Water Mixable Oil Painting Medium

Process


The model has a beautiful peaches-and-cream complexion that I tried to capture with a mix of white, cad yellow, cad orange and red for the rosey midtones. For the receding planes not in shadow, I used a grayish mixture of ultramarine blue, alizeron crimson and lots of white. The shadow is mostly burnt umber, burnt sienna and white. I always use burnt sienna for red hair (with a bit of burnt umber in the dark parts); it works beautifully as long as you don't mix white into it, which totally mutes the intensity.



More refining of features, especially around the eyes. Still staying clear of defining edges along the face until I get the basic shapes in place.



Once I had the shapes and colors in, it was pretty easy to finish off details such as adding the ear and styling the hair. The edge along the right side of the face I made bluish; I put in some orange, burnt sienna and white along the shadow side of the face and under the chin to indicate reflected light.



"Dennis" 4-Hour Portrait Sketch



Palette: water-mixable oils
Titanium white
Cad yellow
Cad yellow light
Cad orange
Cad red light
Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna
Alizeron crimson
Burnt umber
Raw umber
Ultramarine blue

Brushes
Mostly #8 and up bristle round and flat brushes, a fan brush

Supports
9x12 Deserres Canvas Board

Mediums
Water
Winsor and Newton Water Mixable Oil Painting Medium

Process


I prefer painting women. Apparently many artists do. When there's a choice at figure painting, the masses flock to the female model. It's arguable a woman's body is more aesthetically pleasing than a man's (sorry, guys). But I also find I can do smoother blending when painting a female, which lets me use my dangerously addictive fan brush.

Still, too much blending = muted colours, boring brushwork, poor shaping! So, it's fun to paint a man and play with the sharp angles of the face. Delineation between dark and light shapes is easy to capture.



With a bit of tweaking to the shadow shapes and some red and orange strokes added into the light, you can get a good likeness fast.



A prop, such as a pair of specs, adds personality. And Dennis needed his - he was flipping through a James Bond paperback during the sitting (better than staring at the floor for three hours, I imagine). :)



A smattering of cool blues helps with the final sculpting of form and the color play. I've selectively sharpened edges around the nose (closer to the viewer), and blurred others, such as the edge of the forehead. Voila, a finished sketch and I barely touched my beloved fan brush!