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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There is necessarily a difference of treatment to be observed between the manner of conducting the masculine portrait and that of bringing forward the portrait of a lady. The tints employed for the former are warmer and stronger than those used for the latter ; and the manner of commencing the heads of children is yet more delicate.

It may be observed that, as the painter rarely meets with two complexions exactly alike, he will hereafter be guided by his judgment and experience in the selection of tints. The precepts which we give him here are well suited for general purposes.

The first painting of the features may be very satisfactorily effected by using a shade tint composed of Indian Red, Raw Umber, and Black, the lights being laid in with two or three tints of White and Light Red, mixed to different degrees of depth.

At this stage of the work lay in all the shaded parts of the face, employing the graduated light tints to work into the deeper tones, but using the colour as sparingly as possible.

The principal masses of shade must be laid with breadth -that is, without a too close observation and definition of detail; and the brush employed for the purpose must be soft and thick. The uniformity of the shade may be modified and broken by some warmer tint in the markings of certain features, as the nostrils, the line of the mouth between the lips, the eyelids, and other parts.

As the tints employed at this stage of the work are few, the lights and gradations in nature will suggest their places ; but with respect to these, the lights should fall short of the highest lights of the natural complexion, these being held in reserve for finishing. The mask having thus been worked over, the whole must be freely united with a soft brush to exclude all hardness from the outline and insipidity from the shadows. The result of this union will be the production of intermediate gradations, which will give harmony to the work by effacing the marks of the brush and producing greater transparency.

For any corrections that may be necessary, the compound of White, Black, Indian Red, and Terre Verte will be found of great utility, as it blends charmingly with either the shade or the light, leaving the work in the most advantageous state to support the subsequent paintings.

The portrait being thus far brought forward, other brushes and additional colours will be necessary. In order to continue the work, six or eight clean brushes of various sizes may be used.

Proceed now to approach the complexion with some of the more luminous tints-those in which the yellows and reds prevail-and work with a good body of colour on the highest lights. The tints to be used here will still fall short of the highest lights, which are yet to come.

It is a general practice to work from the shaded masses up to the lights, but the result is the same by commencing with the lights-a method which a little explanation will perhaps make more readily intelligible to the student. This impasto, therefore, of the lights having been effected, he will follow it by succeeding gradations down to the shadows, and will finally touch upon the reflexes, going over the entire face, so as to cover all the previous thin painting with tints approaching the life. The additional tints necessary for this part of the work may be composed of White, Light Red, and Vermilion in various degrees, and for the more mellow lights, White, Light Red, and Naples Yellow. In working from these to the extreme outlines, the gradations must be preserved with the utmost care, in order to secure the roundness of the head.

The tints must be transferred to their places with as little disturbance as possible-that is, they must not be saddened and overwrought by the brush, or the result will be a flat waxy surface, altogether unlike the life. But if the tint be carefully laid and judiciously harmonized with the tones by which it is met, it will be spirited and transparent, and so life-like as to appear as if it would yield to the pressure of the finger.

The process of glazing is that by which the shadows are finished in ultimate paintings. The result of glazing is a transparency which has to the eye the appearance of a shaded and retiring depth.

Glazing is effected by working over shaded portions of the picture with transparent colours, either singly or in combination. Transparent colours are also used to pass over the lights of a picture, in order to tone and harmonize them.

The management of the shaded passages of a head, in the first painting, always has reference to the subsequent glazings ; thus, the shadows in the dead colouring must always be studied with a view to support the finish. They must be somewhat lighter than it is proposed, ultimately, to leave them, thus allowing for the glazing by which they acquire the necessary depth. The dead colouring of all passages that are to be glazed should be laid with a clean and solid body, because the glazing is, in such cases, more permanent, as depending for beauty and real effect entirely upon the preparatory ground.

All the lights of the study, if not laid upon a light ground, will change in some degree from the life, because every colour in drying will sink, and, in proportion to its body, partake of the ground upon which it is laid; therefore the greater the quantity of colour, and the more substantially it is used, the less liable will it be to change.

Thus it will be understood that the first painting must be left bright in tone and free in touch. If stripped or elaborated with small brushes, the work will be deprived of whatever spirit may have been communicated to it; and if the lights be much worked after being laid, they will lose the lifelike freshness which would otherwise distinguish them.

Should any imperfection be observed after the work has been thus far advanced, it will be better to omit the emendation until it be dry, as then it can be effected with greater spirit and facility, and even in the case of failure the application of a clean rag will restore the ground.

The great object of the foregoing instructions is the modelling of the features into form and character, and this will be best effected by a sparing use of vehicle and a free use of colour ; and as the dead colouring is intended as a judicious foundation for all that is to follow, it is highly important that it should be laid in strict relation with succeeding tones and colours.


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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