Paint a Classical Portrait: Demo by Robert Armetta

Flora (oil, 36×24)

Robert Armetta’s goal with all of his work is to make beautiful paintings without resorting to kitsch or sentimentality: “I really think some of the imagery in many contemporary paintings is a bit too sweet on one hand; far too overtly dark, foreboding and in-your-face on the other. The artists I admire found a place between those two extremes and are far more lasting because of it.”

Progression of a Portrait in Four Steps
by Robert Armetta

After doing a drawing to establish the model’s general shapes and proportions, because of the drawing’s complexity, I scaled it up by using the traditional grid method. Then I did an open grisaille (monochrome-value painting) on canvas. When this was dry, I began to paint the face, starting with the shadow and then moving into the lights. I next painted the hair and began to suggest loosely the areas of the background surrounding the head. I then moved to the painting of the hands and also suggested the color around them on the book cover.

At this point I began to paint the book to a greater finish and moved on to the model’s sweater. I first started this while working from the model; afterwards I dressed a life-sized manikin in the model’s clothing, carefully arranging it to match the drawing I’d already established.

  I began to work on the dress next, harmonizing it with the sweater in terms of color and value, and then returned to working on the sweater to make some adjustments. Before painting the chair, I rubbed in the tonalities to the right of the model and then blocked in the chair—first the armrest, then the seat. At this point the canvas was covered. I was set to bring the looser areas around the canvas to a greater finish.

Painting the large area of red on the back of the chair to a finish, I next moved to the dark areas to the right of the model and the chair’s armrest and seat, painting those to a finish. The piece near completion, I made some small final adjustments to the face and hands—clarifying the lights and accentuating some color notes—and then softened a few of the hard edges throughout. The result of my labor is Flora (oil, 36×24).

Meet Robert Armetta
“I guess you could say I was on an art odyssey,” explains this Brooklyn-based painter, who is definitely in his element at his Long Island Academy of Fine Art—having honed his skills in similar classical milieus across the United States and in Europe. He eventually earned his master’s degree in fine art from the New York Academy of Art, thus rounding out his formal education with exposure to 20th-century principles and themes. “The Academy was basically the antithesis of my atelier schooling,” he recalls. “Nevertheless, it was important in my development as an artist because, while I believe it’s crucial to comprehend the world around us and the times we live in, what I ultimately found out—through an eclectic course of study—is that I have a classical temperament that lends itself to a particular type of painting.” Armetta has exhibited at the Allen Sheppard, Grenning, Arcadia, John Pence, Seraphin and Nabi galleries, the National Academy of Design in New York City and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Indiana. Learn more about him and his atelier at and


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