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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A study of the figure is brought forward in a manner very different from that of painting a portrait-that is to say, in the latter the object is glowing transparency, with a surface that would seem to yield to the touch; while in the former the purpose is a firm and muscular surface, represented principally by the solid painting. By this means it is that the colour of our ordinary models is imitated ; but in pictures wherein the artist represents impersonations in poetical or historical composition, he paints them as they would be under such circumstances, bronzed perhaps by the sun and weather.

The figure having been sketched in with charcoal, as in the case of the portrait (for we presume on the part of the painter a knowledge of figure-drawing), and all the proportions revised and adjusted, the outline may be very carefully made, either with a chalk point or a hair pencil charged with some warm middle tint. The model, in most schools, stands two hours each day for a period of six days ; and the first two hours cannot be better employed than in making a careful outline study of the figure, with all the marking slightly put in. It is very seldom that the model maintains the spirit of the original pose to the completion of the study; if, therefore, the painter cannot at once catch the first dispositions of the figure, and paint them, assisted by his knowledge of anatomy, he must work out the pose into which the model frequently falls ; for weariness and other causes operate against the rigid maintenance of any attitude long together, and in the nude figure the slightest change is important, although in the dressed model it would be comparatively immaterial.

It would be well to imitate, as nearly as possible, the clear and delicate hues of the skin, for which purpose a selection of the following tints, in different degrees, will be sufficient:


White and Naples Yellow

White, Naples Yellow, and Vermilion

White and Light Red

White, Naples Yellow, and Light Red

White, Naples Yellow, and Madder Lake

White and Madder Lake

White, Madder Lake, and Terre Verte

Terre Verte, Indian Red, and Black

Terre Verte and Indian Red

Madder Lake and Raw Sienna

Madder Lake and Raw Umber

White, Black, and Vermilion

Black and Burnt Sienna


Skilful painters will execute a very small figure with great rapidity after having drawn it in; a transparency and softness are obtained by dispatch, but for a careful study six evenings will be found by no means too much.

In laying in the dead colouring of the figure, great firmness and decision will be obtained by employing but little vehicle. It is customary to begin the painting, as the drawing, by the head, which having been brought up as nearly as possible to nature, the neck and shoulders will follow, and the student will work downwards until the whole has been gone over. It will be remembered that in painting the figure we are no longer painting a portrait; if, therefore, the character or expression of the model be not sufficiently good, the defect must be improved and idealized, and it would be well for the painter to accustom himself to this, because in a picture there is always wanted more than can be obtained from the model.

If the model be so placed as to be in any considerable degree in shade, it is good practice to consider this part first, laying it in breadth, and marking the reflexes with a warm tint. It is good practice in painting from the draped figure to study and paint small portions at a time, from the impossibility of procuring at each sitting precisely the same folds and dispositions of drapery. From a like cause it would be well to study other parts of the figure at a time. Taking the neck and shoulders, those parts which in a front view would particularly demand attention would be the muscles of the neck, the markings at the top of the sternum, the lines of the deltoid, and the pectorals. The drawing and nice gradations of these parts should be scrupulously made out, working from the stronger shades up to the lights ; and this part being completed, the others may be similarly treated until the whole be worked over. The finishing consists in glazing and deepening the shadows and heightening the lights. It will be found that the extremities are the most difficult to paint. They may be sketched lightly and freely with the point, but the greatest exactitude and delicacy will be necessary in painting them-the hands not less than the feet.


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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