Rob Anderson | Portrait Painting Tutorial

If you’re wondering how to paint portraits, Rob Anderson‘s portrait painting tutorial can help you. Follow along in Anderson’s demonstration as he begins with a preliminary drawing and moves to an underpainting before finishing the portrait. Read more about  Rob Anderson’s figurative oil paintings in The Artist’s Magazine (September 2012).

"Study of Dan" (oil, 15x15) by Rob Anderson | Portrait Painting Tutorial


Portrait Painting Tutorial: Steps for How to Paint Portraits

1. Preliminary Study: I often start by doing a full-value preliminary study of the subject in graphite, as I did here for Study of Dan (oil, 15×15). This process allows me to begin to see the organization of shapes more accurately.

Step 1: Study in Graphite, Rob Anderson Tutorial | Portrait Painting Tutorial


2. Angling and Measuring: When I actually start my work on the panel, I believe it’s important to begin with angling and measuring. With my arm straight out in front of me and my elbow locked, I use my pencil to measure and compare lengths, widths and angles to ensure accuracy of the facial structure and major value shapes.

Step 2: Angling and Measuring, Rob Anderson Tutorial | Portrait Painting Tutorial


3. Underpainting: For my underpainting I use a 1:1 mixture of raw umber and burnt sienna. This step helps me organize values and maintain warmth in the fleshtones throughout the painting process.

Step 3: Underpainting, Rob Anderson Tutorial | Portrait Painting Tutorial


4. Block-In: In my block-in stage, I begin to find large shapes of cool and warm chromatic grays. It’s important to work from simple to complex shapes.

Step 4: Block-In Stage, Rob Anderson Tutorial | Portrait Painting Tutorial


5. Impasto, Texturing and Glazing: By the end of day one, I begin to find hard and soft edge transitions and imply various surface textures. This stage involves impasto (a thick application of paint), “scraping down” (scraping paint across the surface with a razor blade or small palette knife) and glazing (laying down thin layers of transparent paint that reveal the layers underneath). The scraping down process helps diffuse the pure color (applied with a brush) and softens edges.

Step 5: Scaling Down Process, Rob Anderson Tutorial | Portrait Painting Tutorial


6. Finessing: Then I continue to work on the surface texture, the modeling of the shapes and the overall color. It’s important to know when to quit working on an image. The longer I work on a painting, the easier it is to know when something feels complete. In my process I must constantly remember that I’m not simply making an image, but a painting. So the qualities of paint, such as the mark making—the physical texture—and the layering process must remain visible in the final product.

"Study of Dan" (oil, 15x15) by Rob Anderson | Portrait Painting Tutorial

“Study of Dan” (oil, 15×15) by Rob Anderson

Rob Anderson is the manager of Manifest, a creative research gallery and drawing center in Cincinnati, Ohio. View more art on his website,

Other Helpful Online Articles

Curious about how to use the block-in method? Follow along in this tutorial on how to draw people using the block-in method by Robert T. Barrett.


Unsure about how to complete an underpainting? Richard McKinley‘s tutorial will help you get started with an underpainting in pastel and mixed media or with an underpainting in India ink or alcohol.



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