Free Portrait Painting Tutorial | Expert Portrait Painting Tips

Supple floral arrangements in still lifes, violent waves in seascapes and exotic wildlife in animal art: artists explore endless subjects, but there’s one that continues to dominate over the years: painting portraits. Artists are fascinated with capturing the human face: each wrinkle, dimple and freckle helps to not only identify but also to personify subjects that have interesting stories to tell, be it in their poses or just through their expressions. Painting portraits is a challenge because the face is such a recognizable subject in art, and that’s where this free download, Portrait Painting Lessons, comes in to help.

In Portrait Painting Lessons, you’ll begin learning portrait painting techniques with Jean Pederson, who advises you to pay attention to relationships among the facial features in your subject. “The closer a face corresponds to the average relationships of facial features, the more ‘comfortable’ that face will appear,” she says. In this excerpt from Expressive Portraits, Pederson offers six steps to help you position and size the various parts of the face.

Next, learn about the portrait painting techniques of getting the right skin tones in an excerpt from Victoria Lisi’s Vibrant Children’s Portraits. Topics include determining and placing values; blending; glazes; scumbling; light, dark, warm and brown skin tones; mixing, color variation of features and tips on skin tone for portrait painting. “It’s important to recognize the enormous variation in skin tones,” says Lisi. “I find it helps to select two different triad combinations and use both throughout the early stages of the painting. Then subtly vary the skin even more with selective glazes and scumbles. Different areas of the face may require different colored glazes and scumbles.”

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Learn portrait painting techniques in this free guide.
Learn how to get skin tones right every time!

Then in “Quiet Reverence,” Meredith E. Lewis takes you into the world of Dongfeng Li, an artist who creates atmospheric watercolor portraits. In this article from Watercolor Artist (April 2012), you’ll learn how Li developed his signature style and how he paints these graceful portrait paintings. “Painting from life, photographs and reference material, Li strives to achieve authenticity in each painting,” says Lewis. “Life painting is his favorite way of working. If he chooses to work from photographs, he often changes the color scheme and various personal elements to complete and unify a composition.”

And last but not least, read about master portrait artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, who has painted models such as John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, Tom Wolfe, and more. In “A Brush With History” from The Artist’s Magazine (January/February 2013), you’ll gain insights into how to not just paint a portrait, but how to paint a personality, including how Kinstler interpreted the actor Christopher Plummer in a portrait painting.



Pick up these must-try portrait painting tips from

Self Assured (watercolor, gesso, and India ink on 140-lb cold-pressed paper, 30×22) by Jean Pederson

“Know Your Subject” | Expressive Portraits by Jean Pederson

“Because our faces are so similar, our minds want to exaggerate the small nuances that distinguish one face from another. As artists, we try to paint what we see, rather than what we think we see. (Agree with this? Tweet it!) If we observe carefully how light falls on the different planes of the face, we see shapes instead of features. I keep these ideas in mind when I begin a drawing.”

Expert tips from portrait artists

Punch a hole in two pieces of card stock. Lay one piece on your reference and one on the corresponding area of the dry painting. This will isolate the area so you can better judge value.

“Painting Skin Tones” | Vibrant Children’s Portraits by Victoria Li

“The range of skin tones is vast,” says Lisi. “Buying a tube of paint marked ‘flesh’ is completely inadequate. Look at the enormous array of skin tones available at a makeup counter. Some companies even offer customized blends. If you make a skin chart of all the potential skin palettes. you’ll be in a much better position to select appropriate color.

Learn how to paint a portrait from experts

Pack Rat (watercolor on paper, 38×26) by Dongfeng Li

“Quiet Reverence” by Meredith E. Lewis | Watercolor Artist, April 2012

“Emotion arrives through composition and through his use of light and dark values, color washes, texture, brushstrokes and color work. ‘Contrast and harmony are based on my design purpose,’ says Li. ‘If I need more attention, I’ll use more contrast; when I want elements to seem unified, I’ll do the opposite.’”


Paint a Portrait like a pro

Tom Wolfe (2000; oil, 56×44) by Everett Raymond Kinstler

“A Brush With History” by Louise B. Hafesh | The Artist’s Magazine, January/February 2013

“Having already discovered that every nook and cranny holds some treasure and an opportunity for a personal anecdote, I try to appear nonchalant about this last revelation. I comment on a small, striking painting of Katharine Hepburn (whom Kinstler had painted more than 40 times in the 1980s and 1990s). Kinstler confided that, at her sittings, the actress had insisted on overseeing every detail, dictating incessant instructions, often to Kinstler’s exasperation. ‘I finally said to her, ‘Ms. Hepburn, I admire you so much, but your constant critiques are driving me crazy,’ recalls Kinstler. ‘She thought for a second and then said, ‘You know what your problem is? You talk too much!’ When that particular portrait was complete, Hepburn declared (to Kinstler’s surprise) that it was her favorite and told the artist, ‘I like you—you do your homework.’”

Claim Your FREE Download of Portrait Painting Tips Today!

Take advantage of these free articles and excerpts from The Artist’s Magazine, Watercolor Artist, Expressive Portraits, and Vibrant Children’s Portraits to help you learn how to paint portraits! Along with this free download, you’ll receive the free newsletter with portrait painting techniques, inspiration and more!

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