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  • Gav Munro

9 Simple Steps to Paint a Portrait


If you're interested in painting and would like to know a few tricks I've picked up during the last 10 years then this is for you. I'll walk you through the process with this portrait I've just done of George Harrison of The Beatles...if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer it asap.

1- Once i've done the initial line sketch I get the brush and some dark brown paint and run it over the pencil strokes, filling in the blocks where possible (I'll leave the hair til later...I'll tell you why soon)....

2- I then use a mid tone paint to 'under-paint the face. It doesn't matter which colour you use but I prefer orange as flesh tones have orange so the base coat comes through as I over paint a lighter colour and gives a more realistic colour...

3- I throw a background on...I love this bit! I want to bring the face out of the canvas so i can focus on it more, so 'killing' the background is the best way to do it. Why did I chose green and brown? Well, the complimentary colour of orange is green so they sit nicely together. I went darker with the background to bring the face out more.....

4- I now mix 3-4 shades of the flesh colour. See the flesh colours as a spectrum from light to dark. Mix the pantone flesh acrylic with white first to get the lighter end of the spectrum...

Very roughly add the lighter areas to the portrait. Make sure you completely fill the face with paint...this is called 'deadening' or 'killing' the canvas...things get easier soon...!

5- Now add the darker areas of flesh and hair. Pigment in skin is an amazing thing and our flesh and hair colours are made from the same stuff so mix flesh tone with dark brown to get the dark end of the skin spectrum, and use that brown to paint the hair roughly. Can you see the orange peeping through now? I always add the reflection points in the eyes at this point. this really makes a difference as it gives more depth to the eyes. Things are starting to take shape....

6- Add lighter areas to the hair and also any facial hair roughly...at this point we're only trying to get 'form' or areas of tone correct....

7- This is the part I love! As a painter see yourself as a magician bring features closer and further away from the viewer with the stroke of a brush. I start with light flesh tones to bring things out. Look at the bridge of the nose and the left side cheek...it's coming forward isn't it?

8- Now with mid to dark tones start to add lines, wrinkles and shadows...see the right hand side of the temple? that's what I mean....

9- I always finish with the lips, mix the flesh colour with to produce a really washed out pink. This painting isn't exactly finished yet, i'll probably tinker with it for a few more days but the most important parts of the portrait are done. I've put all these images together in a video. i'll post that to my art page now. Remember if you have any questions please leave them in the comments box....thanks!

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