The art of portrait

The art of portrait painting in oil colours

This informative book on portrait painting has been preserved for generations and fully deserves to to be available to all portrait artists online. While the art of portraiture has moved on, much of what was written is still valid and relevant to the modern day portrait painter.

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The dead colouring, or first painting, must be perfectly dry before the second painting is proceeded with. The time necessary for the drying of the work depends upon the temperature of the painting room, the vehicle employed, and the substance of the impasto. Generally, if the work dries well, a picture may be advanced to conclusion by painting on it on successive days.

With a large brush moderately charged with vehicle, pass lightly over the work, and with the corner of an old silk handkerchief, or any similarly soft substance, carefully remove the superfluous moisture. If the complexion be delicate, as that of a lady or child, this will be sufficient, but if the complexion be fresh and florid, the vehicle taken in the brush may be slightly tinted with Rose Madder and Raw Sienna; but this must be sparingly used, lest the complexion becomes foxy. This toning, when successfully employed, produces a harmony of mellow hues not obtainable by other means, because the colours which qualify the vehicle blend freely with the subsequent tints, and so generalize the colour without depriving the cool half tints of their value.

The process of glazing has been alluded to in the first painting. Wherever depth or certain degrees of shade are to be represented, this is effected by the employment of transparent colour applied to a painting previously prepared to receive it, and always considerably lighter than it is intended to be left by the glazing.

The repainting and heightening of the lights are called scumbling, and both of these processes are essential in the advanced state of the picture.

Before the second painting is commenced, the work should be carefully examined, and the drawing corrected wherever it may appear faulty. In this examination the utmost attention must be paid to the form and character of the shaded portions, for, to adapt an old proverb to the economy of painting, we may say that if we take care of the shades, the lights will take care of themselves.


For any necessary correction a shade tint is employed, and its strength will be suggested by the kind of emendation to be effected, whether it be outline or the marking of a feature, as of an eye or the nose.

The drawing having been satisfactorily corrected, it is advisable to complete the glazings, employing such colours or combinations as will produce the nearest resemblance to nature. For this purpose Ivory Black, Raw and Burnt Umber, Madder Lake, Indian Red, Vermilion, Raw Sienna, Terre Verte, and others, in tints of two or three colours, may be used. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the drawing and forms of the first painting must appear through the glaze. To effect this result it is requisite to work with tints, in proportion of little colour to much vehicle.

For the lights of the face, degrees of the Light Red tints may be used, qualified and supported, according to the character of the complexion, by tints of Yellow, Vermilion, Rose Madder, etc. The half lights and middle tints are graduated to the shadows, with different degrees of grey tint.

The whole of the tints must be laid as nearly as possible in the places they are intended permanently to occupy. The reason for this caution is that when much worked with the brush they become flat, hard, and opaque, and entirely lose those properties whereby the painter is enabled, successfully to represent the warmth, freshness, and vitality of living features. The half tints and gradations which approach the shadows are a highly important part of the work, because it is by these that the features are rounded, and it is these that are the most exposed to elaboration by the brush. The lights must be kept distinct from the shadows, any confusion destroying at once the truth of both. The brushes, therefore, with which the one is painted must not be employed for the other.

A transparent and lifelike character may be given to the work by painting on the breadths of light (that is, when the complexion is sufficiently florid to admit of this proceeding) with tints mixed without white, laying them on as a glaze, and touching into them in the manner of hatching; such tints are given among those recommended for the palette.

As a general rule for the treatment of shaded passages, it is advisable not to lay them on equally deep with those in nature, or when the work is dry they will appear too strong. The same objection applies to half tints and gradations when put on in the exact natural tone.

Those parts of the shades which are lighted by reflection should be painted with stronger colour than the shades themselves, and if possible without any white ; the light and warm colours are generally found sufficient for this purpose.

We here suppose the whole of the face to have been repainted, the drawing corrected, and the picture in a fit state to receive the finishing touches. We also suppose that the forehead has been painted up to the line where it is met by the hair, the high lights of the former graduated into the dark tones of the latter, and that the outlines of the face have been softened into the background, or that part of the composition whereby it is relieved. We presume, in short, that the whole has been drawn and painted so far with the utmost care. There are, however, yet many difficulties which will beset the path of a beginner, and questions will arise which no foresight can anticipate. To the oldest as well as to the youngest painter the character and expression of the features will still be the chief anxiety, and we will therefore revert to a consideration of the features individually, as a second part of the second painting, in the hope of helping the student over his difficulties.


About John Payne

Pet Portraits     Art for sale - oil paintings

I’ve been a professional portrait artist for the last 12 years but have been painting for a lot longer . I started out by painting nothing but seascapes and still do the odd one from time to time , I then moved onto landscapes and wildlife paintings before I finally decided to concentrate on portraits.

I get commissioned to paint a lot of pets , mainly dogs – but I also get to paint a fair amount of portraits of people.

more about John                                                                  John Payne       




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