Here are three steps of my technique in portraiture.
Timing is very important in this!!
For reasons of health and working space I'm painting with acrylics for now. The times are thought for acrylic but they can be easily adapted for oil techniques.
First I start a temptative construction of the face structure with bold strokes of ochre.
Its better to use a thick brush (watercolor brushes work fine) and humid pigment. If you work with acrylics add some water to the mix of colour so that it keeps wet for a while. This will allow you to modify the face and make proper adjustments before it dries up.
I try not to pay attention to color graduation or lightning, just focus on inner structure (take a look on Giacometti's head drawings)
When I've passed over several times all around the face, generally leaving no blind spots, then I begin to feel sure of starting to place highlights properly.
For this I do not add water to the white and I use a thinner and harder brush.
While the ochre backround is still wet you need no more humidity and by adding drier white strokes they will blend together and make softer transitions from midtones (of the ochre) to whites. Its very important to work over the still wet surface to achieve this. I try to leave the materials to "work" for themselves. I think this is a better way to achieve an optic feeling instead of overworking the thing.
At this point is when I took the first photos of the process. You can see the ochre backround and the first attempts of lights. I started to add a bit of pink areas in the upper portrait. Generally these spots of pink are located near the eyes, the lips and on cheeks (on white caucasian people). But still colour its not my mayor concern.
Try to work on the brighter areas leaving the future darks untouched (the pupils, eyebrows, hair, etc.).
Important tip: To achieve better transitions from light to dark try to locate the brightest spot of the area you are about to render and give the first stroke of white there. Now, avoid adding more pigment, that is with that same stroke (do not lift the brush of the canvas!) try to model the bright area. Following the direction from lights to shadows. The brush will run out of paint (obviously) and with the brush exhausted you can still do things and transitions will be richer in texture and meaning (watch Rembrandt's selfportraits!)
Now its time for details and color.
The greenish backround will make appealing and fleshlike tones if you now focus on the reddish tones of the face. To achieve this the layers of color should be semitransparent, by doing so the contrast of complementary colors (check Newton's theory of colour [link]
) will do the trick.
To get a more effective ilusion of flesh I use a transparent acrylic between the layers of color. This is to imitate real skin, as it has various layers and it's (in most cases) semitransparent.
Patience is vital at this stage. Finishing is the most difficult thing. Corrections should be discrete and judging the balance of errors and achievements (in terms of likeness and character) is also crucial. I beleive that the real essence of personality resides in the eyes. Also the nose comes in second place and, this is curious but true, the edges of the mouth. I believe it was John Singer Sargent that said “A portrait is a painting with something wrong with the mouth.” This is so true.
Might be useful to change to the thinner brush now. Eyebrows are very important and I've recently discovered that to bring more life to the eyes, making the pupil a bit larger is helpful and the traditional white little spot!! (check [link]
). Try not to abuse of line at this stage, use it only when you feel is necessary, the contour of the eyelids for example.
Well this is it, good luck!!
There's nothing better than practice and copying the great masters of portraiture. Grab a mirror and start with yourself! Self-portraits are the best exercise!! Da Vinci said in his treaty that in order to make beautifull images you must first know all your flaws, and be aware of them, cause if you don't, you will reproduce them in the figures you make. I strongly recommend these 3 painters to study from: Frans Hals (I copied this fella for almost 2 years!), Rembrandt and Hans Holbein the younger. Portraiture is their specialty and, very important!! they made a living of this so... thats why I'm doing this for