Portrait in Oils

The drawing for my Portrait in Oils is little more than a sketch, accurate but simple, done in Hb pencil.

My underpainting is done in cobalt blue and white with the paint thinned with white spirit. I establish the tones and show where light strikes the subject. This is easy if you use only one colour.

I add a further three layers until satisfied that the tones are what I want. Don't rush at this stage. And don't be afraid to add layer on layer if you need to.

I add colour to the background. I find this important so I can adjust the true colours of the subject correctly. The harmony between background and figure is important and can be difficult to judge. Combat this by working on the whole at least in terms of tone. Now I leave the paint for over 48 hours.

The next stage is where I add earthy colours. I was taught that warm colours shouldn't be laid over cooler ones. I ignore that advice nowadays. I dilute the warmer colours with linseed oil but very little. I add four layers for the skin tones made up fron cadmium red, burnt umber, cadmium yellow and viridian. The shirt is made up of viridian, cadmium yellow and red. Trousers are zinc white, ivory black, cobalt blue and viridian, always working dark to light.

Each layer has more medium than the preceding layer until the paint is approximately 50% diluted. I use controlled, smooth actions. I leave the painting for three days.

Now I blend the edges of each colour to make the surface of the painting smooth. It's equally valid to leave the paint lively but I am aiming for a smooth surface. I use a clean, dry flatbrush for this. The paint should be stiffer than when we left it but with some movement at this stage. I am economical with each stroke and work slowly, going over each area until achieving smoothness.

The background is quite abstract, similar to a photographers backdrop. A good technique if you want to emphasise the subject rather than placing them in a particular setting. To achieve the lighter blue I added zinc white to the blue using seven layers and fading the upper right corner. See Blending and Gradation for super simple oil painting technique advice.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial, Portrait in Oils. Take it as a starting point in your own development as a painter and please let me know how you are getting along.

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