How to paint a first oil portrait

How to paint a first oil portrait. Painting a portrait at first with skill and precision is the dream of many budding painters. However, for those who are new to arms, dealing with a subject of this type may seem a difficult, almost impossible challenge. And if you thought the same too. I understand you very well! In this article, I will try to show you that you too can do it. In the following tutorial, we will create together an oil portrait painted “Alla prima.” Are you wondering what it means to paint the first time? Explained in simple words, it means painting and drawing ideas easy by working in layers of color without waiting for the previous layer to be completely dry before applying a new one.

What tools are needed to paint a portrait at first, with oil colors?

What are the colors and materials we will use in this guide? The article you are about to read was created using exclusively Winsor & Newton products, the famous English brand founded in London in 1832.

Winton oil paints by Winsor & Newton

Winton Winsor & Newton oil colors are particularly suitable for this kind of pictorial process because they have a high concentration of pigments. In addition, they have an excellent covering power and a high density of the pastes: all characteristics that we can consider ideal for easily obtaining a vibrant structure, both with brush strokes and with a spatula application. 

For the painting, I chose a basic palette of colors, and it is the same for the vast majority of my paintings: Titanium White – Light Cadmium Yellow – Cadmium Red – Permanent Alizarin Crimson – Ultramarine Blue – Yellow Ocher – Burnt Sienna – Burnt Umber – Green Earth – Black Lie. These, combined, will cover the entire spectrum necessary for the realization of the framework. In general, I recommend using a small palette to encourage mixing colors and understanding the infinite shades and shades that can achieve.

The choice of the reference subject

How to paint a first oil portrait

The first thing to do is to choose a reference photo. The goal is to create a portrait: we must choose a photo that intrigues us, inspires us, and transmits something to us. In addition, especially if we are at the beginning, we must look for a subject that is not too complicated, and by this, I mean that the face portrayed in the photo is clear, well defined, and visible. In my case, I chose a beautiful photo found on the internet that I drew directly on the sheet well anchored to the rigid support with the 2H pencil. If it helps, you can transfer the image through the construction of a grid to control the proportions or use carbon paper to bring the design back to its essential lines.

The drawing of the portrait

We must therefore bring the face design back to the paper. We fix the sheet on the rigid support using scotch tape and trying to apply it precisely. The scotch tape must position equidistant from the edges of the drawing: to do this. You can use a ruler and a pencil, drawing lines before applying them. Then choose the edge size that suits you best. It will be a real frame for the painting: in my case, I chose a size of 8 mm from the outer edge. Once the sheet is fixed on the panel, but before starting to paint, we must draw the portrait with the pencil.

We define the oval of the face and the characterizing and salient elements of the face, namely the eyes, the nose, and the mouth. It may also be useful to trace some shaded areas with a small hatch: at this moment, it is not necessary to look for too much detail but rather to define a good proportion of the portrait concerning the sheet. We want a good foundation defined within its margins for our painting.

Preparation of the base with a little color

We prepare a cling bottom with a thin layer of color all over the sheet. To do this, place a small walnut of the chosen color on the palette. In general, I suggest a certain selection of colors chosen in the palette. In our case, green earth will be fine, or a burnt sienna or even a number.

This step is important to create a color scaffold. The choice of these colors is due to the common characteristic of quick-drying to the touch and creating an excellent basic structure for subsequent layers. The undertone of each of these colors will determine the choice based on the painting being made. (For example, burnt sienna has a reddish undertone, burnt umber has a greenish undertone.) For this tutorial, I chose the earth green color to obtain a pale green, cold and elegant undertone, and above all, it is very useful for painting the skin colors.

Consolidate the drawing with one color

Let’s finally start using the brushes! What we will do now is to consolidate the drawing with a color that could have lightened a lot after applying the background. In technical jargon, it is called under-painting. I chose the Terra d’Ombra for the contours and the important elements of the portrait. Then I used the burnt sienna to sketch the shadow areas, always using only the Sansodor solvent to the color. Right now, we are establishing the two extremes: the darker areas with the color and the brighter areas through the background color. This method will make it easier to lay out the mid-tones, allowing me to compare the chromatic values ​​more easily.

Drafting of “half-body volumes.”

Let us now deal with one of the most important parts of the painting: we will create the main volumes on most of the portrait and call this phase “creation of the half-body volumes.” Take the largest flat brush, the n ° 8, and paint by spreading the pure color or softened with the second additive, the medium Liquin Original by Winsor & Newton.

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