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.

Back to The Art of Portrait Painting



As some of the most valuable qualities of execution depend upon a knowledge of the extent of representation to which we may attain with colour and oil, it would be well to endeavour to understand this point, because no amount of elaboration can force or improve the properties of oil and colour in truth of representation, and every effort to pass a certain limit only tends to vitiate any life-like property which may have been communicated to the work.

No two experienced artists employ the brush precisely in the same way. Handling and touch have distinctive peculiarities in the work of every painter ; and numerous as are the recognized schools of art, there is yet some distinctive manner of execution by which the work of each hand is recognizable; and limited and inexpressive though the simple application of oil-colour to canvas may seem to be, there will yet be read in the method of this application hundreds of names, all differing in the characters in which they are written.

This means of settling surface-colour into texture will be a question with the beginner. Some artists, having laid it with decided and spirited touches, proceed to soften with the brush any parts that require uniting. Others work the brush in a manner to round the features according to the drawing; and this perhaps is a commendable practice for students, provided every care be taken to avoid sullying either the lights or shades by blending them. Texture can only be obtained when there is a sufficient body of colour, and painters to whom practice has given confidence, load their lights, and seek to obtain texture early in the progress of their work-that is, in a second painting, which they regard as only part of the first.

When the lights and gradations have been so carefully laid as to preserve them in all their freshness, it will be necessary, in order to secure a perfect harmony of parts, to pass a thin and long-haired brush lightly, but freely, over the whole work.

It may be here and there necessary to lay an intermediate tint where the tones do not sufficiently approach each other. In this case compose with the point of the brush such a tint as may harmonize with both, and unite the whole, if necessary, with a clean brush; but the surface must not be worked into a mealy smoothness.

All corrections and emendations are much better effected when the picture is dry then when it is wet; if, therefore, in painting the parts of the work, the process should not be attended with tolerable success, it would be better at once to leave the whole to dry, when the defect would be most easily remedied by the student. With some experience, he might be recommended to remove all the wet colour by one sweep of the palette-knife, and having recovered the ground by wiping it perfectly clean with a rag moistened with a little turpentine, he might repaint the passage ; but this method of correction at an early period of study might imperil the entire work.

Handling and textures do not appear in the shades, for these are generally painted with extreme thinness ; but it is the breadths of light laid with a body of colour that receive texture according to the manner of the touch.

Some artists use a softener for uniting their gradations, and this is most commonly effected by the use of a badger brush. A softener, in the hands of a beginner, frequently tempts him to reduce his work to that flatness which it should be his great effort to guard against If any small ridges of colour be too prominent, or the application of the brush be otherwise desirable, a clean tool with long hair will answer all purposes of softening.


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       




Comments are closed.