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 casting or composition of draperies has been comparatively little studied by the painters of our school; sculptors have necessarily given more attention to this, as an essential item of their education. In some of the foreign schools of art, draperies form a distinct branch of study, which is sedulously pursued through a long course, and hence the beautiful arrangement and composition of folds seen especially in works of living members of the German school.

In painting the dresses of ladies, it will be well understood that in cases where the material is such as to require very careful execution, this cannot be effected from the sitter. When dresses and draperies require particular study, it will be necessary to make a sketch of the proposed dispositions either in chalk or water-colour, and the dress or drapery will be adjusted as nearly as possible, according to these forms, upon the lay figure. In this memorandum all that is necessary to obtain is the general form which it is desired to preserve ; detail will be abundantly supplied by the folds into which the dress will fall on the figure.

In working from such an arrangement it is not necessary to copy every fold ; as breadth and variety of line must be maintained, a selection must be made, omitting repetitions or continuations where they cut up the composition. Thus a departure from complex detail is immaterial if the general form and character be observed, insomuch as to render faithfully the disposition of light and shade, the light must be introduced on that side which will afford the greatest breadth of effect, and any particular points of projection or otherwise must be merged in the general form.

Of whatever amplitude a drapery may be, it is necessary that the form of the sitter be indicated in such parts as the composition and pose may admit. The repetition of folds of the same length and strength does not contribute to good composition in a hanging drapery; for instance, in the lower part of a lady’s dress there will always be multiplicity of similar folds, but they must be selected and arranged so as best to assist the form and light and shade.

Draperies composed of thick material are always much more advantageous than those formed of thin stuffs, because the folds are few, and thus we obtain breadth without any departure from the given position.

In thin materials the folds are numerous and generally ineffective ; therefore, in order to remedy this defect, it is advisable to arrange the drapery in such a manner as to obtain some large folds for the sake of variety, and in order to procure shade to break here and there the breadth of light.




All textile materials are definable as coarse or fine by the appearance of the folds which they form ; linen, therefore, is represented coarse or fine according to the substance of the plaits or folds.

Linen may be successfully painted with Ivory Black or Blue Black and White ,slightly warmed with Umber in the markings and forced yet further with Yellow, or a small proportion of Red where it approaches the skin or receives warm reflections.

It is easily painted in the forms in which we always see it worn by men; but the varieties of texture presented by the white proportion of the dress of ladies require a very different mode of treatment. In the former case it may be solidly painted, but in the latter it is most probably some transparent material, which must be painted over a studiously prepared ground.


                                                                                          WHITE SATIN


Satins cast distinct shadows like other bodies ; but these shadows, from the nature of the material, are qualified by strong reflections, and they receive lights in the midst of half tints, even in prominent parts, without any violent opposition. The stiffness of the material causes sudden breaks and terminations, and the like cause gives to the folds a conical form. These breaks are indicated in the light parts by shades or dark half tints and reflections, and in the dark parts by slightly graduating shining lights.

White satins have both warm and cold tones. With the following palette any of these may be successfully imitated by selecting and graduating the tints to meet the hues and tones of the material:


White and Raw Umber

White and Ivory Black

White, Raw Umber, and Ivory Black

White and Indian Red

White, Black, and Indian Red

Brown Ochre and White

Ultramarine and White


                                                                         BLACK SATIN


In painting all black and dark materials it is necessary to keep the shades and markings transparent and decided, which is effected by sustaining them in opposition to broad lights. We frequently see the dead colouring of black satin laid with Black and White and some warm Brown, such as Burnt Umber ; but the finishing of black satin is perhaps best borne out by Red. Thus the drapery may be sketched with Indian Red and Black, and Light Red may be used in the higher lights. The tints for finishing may be composed of White, Black, and a little Lake ; the middle tint the same, with more of Black j and the deepest tint, Lake, Brown, Pink, and Black; and the reflexes may be painted with a shade tint, with the addition of a little Brown Ochre.




Velvets and also furs have the peculiarity of presenting as dark all prominent parts unbroken by lights. The lights are found in the edges and in all receding parts. In consequence of the substantial, and yet pliant nature of velvet, its folds are larger, and break less angularly, in proportion, than those of other fabrics. The folds of the velvet receive lights on their edges, the ridges being dark.


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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