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.
Back to The Art of Portrait Painting
It is generally the desire of students in colouring the cheeks to lay the reds on as smoothly as possible ; this, however, is not a natural aspect, and when the colours are elaborated they lose that ruddy transparency and lifelike variety which characterize the reality. In certain parts of the mask the red tints entirely disappear, and more particularly where the skin is almost immediately supported by the bone, as on the forehead and the upper part of the cheeks. These high lights, being warm, are painted with a bright tint of Yellow and White.
Cold half tints of Blue and White, Black, White, and Vermilion, Green and White, and other similar combinations, are indispensable as modifying and retiring colours, but they must be used with caution.
Sometimes the complexion is happily imitated by the addition of Black or White, when it is not very high in tone nor very brilliant in colour.
Any tint may be saddened by the addition of Black or White, and these pigments, when judiciously used as auxiliaries and correctives, communicate a perfectly natural skin-surface, with a variety of nuance which could not be otherwise obtained. But Black and White, when used without that judgment which observation and experience impart, are fatal to the best qualities of any tints with which they may be mixed.
In glazing the shaded passages of the head, these parts must not be allowed to fall into cold and opaque tones ; the glaze must generally incline to warmth ; yet, from what has been said in the foregoing precepts, it should be understood that in painting a pale and somewhat cold complexion, the use of very warm shadows would be an incongruity.
When the features assume that expression which it is the purpose of all painters to give to their works-we mean an apparent consciousness of the presence of the spectator, which at once puts the latter upon easy terms with that which for the time he treats as a respondent intelligence-the forms are very different from those of the features when in a state of perfect repose. In this case the mouth is somewhat elongated, and the corners are raised ; the wings of the nose expand in some degree with the cheeks, and a slight shade occurs under the eye. This conversational expression is extremely difficult to catch, and frequently, with all their experience and knowledge, the best painters fail in obtaining it.
When the outline of the lighter side of the mask is immediately relieved by a dark background, the cheek must not have the appearance of cutting the background by a severe line of light, but must be softened and, as it were, melted into the background. Indeed, in all cases of opposition, any approach to hard and dry execution must be guarded against.
Let it be understood that there is a definite point up to which natural representation in oil painting can be successfully carried ; beyond this all attempts at minute finish are vain, as serving only to enfeeble whatever good quality of execution the work may possess. If, indeed, a resemblance were painted with the fidelity of Denner, it would be by no means so agreeable as a study firmly and freely executed, A microscopic study of the human mask is at best an unpleasing curiosity; it is never agreeable to a sitter or acceptable to true taste in art. The benefit of his most advantageous appearance should be given to the sitter, and the best rule of practice is to represent that which is seen under favourable circumstances, in preference to demonstrating that which may exist.
When a portrait has been brought forward according to the foregoing precepts, every part having been repainted in a manner to leave the shadows transparent and the lights bright and effective, no attempt must yet be made to give any of those final touches whence it should derive its highest degree of spirit; if it be in a fairly satisfactory state, it must be allowed to dry before it be again worked upon.
About John Payne
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