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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As the rounding and definition of the features is always a difficulty with beginners, we practically repeat the process of painting the mask. It is, perhaps, an easier course to work from the shadows up to the lights than in the contrary direction, because if the shade tints should be worked into the lights, the error can be more easily rectified than if the lights were carried into the shadows. We shall, however, pursue the method with which we commenced, in order to spare the student any embarrassment arising from a change of practice.

Proceed therefore to lay the highest lights of the cheek, cautiously limiting them to their place ; then take a portion of the next tint, modified and broken if necessary with the higher, and approaching as nearly as possible the natural tone, and lay it in conjunction with the other. In working downwards on the cheek, the colour will become more florid; the next tint must therefore be freshened with a proportion (according to the depth or quality of the colour) of Madder Lake, Vermilion, or Light Red ; and in descending upon the strength of colour, the same will prevail in greater force ; and as they have been gradually heightened, so must they be reduced by a similar scale until the general flesh tint be resumed, or until the shades of the fresher colour be lost in the varieties of green, grey, brown, yellow or reddish local colours which may exist in the lower parts of the face.

There is not in the forehead a similar diversity of colour ; here the shades and retiring tints are generally of a more pearly and transparent cast, and a charming scale of tones will be observed towards the shaded side of the head, to the imitation of which every care must be given.

On the shaded side of the head, those parts which come forward to the light will of course be treated in the same manner as the corresponding parts on the light side, and will approach the shadows with the same combinations as those described on that side. Thus, the breadths of light and shade and gradations being painted, they are followed by spirited touches, both in the lights and darks and a revision and confirmation of the drawings and markings.

The breadths having been painted up, the attention will at once be called to those parts requiring further elaboration; these will be found to be the eyes, the nostrils, and wing of the nose, the divisions of the lips, and the corners of the mouth, all of which must be reconsidered and touched upon, improving the resemblance as far as possible.

The lips and nostrils will be left of a ruddy tone, somewhat short of the force of nature, in order to allow for the finishing ; and it should be remembered that if these points fall even considerably short of the reality in force, the fault is on the right side, and in a multitude of instances will be advantageous.

The eye will be found somewhat difficult to treat successfully. It will be observed that, inasmuch as the eyeball is shaded by the eyelash and lid, it is many degrees removed from white, and that the pupil, although it may be very dark, is, by its form and the play of reflected light which it admits, many degrees removed from black. With respect also to the point of reflection, seated generally near the pupil, it is the error of inexperience to paint this at once too large and too wide. The place of this point of reflection varies according to the direction of the light: if the light be below the face, the reflection will be low in the orb ; but the contrary if the light be high. It will be more or less intense according to the exposure of the eye; therefore, this white speck, which in painting imparts great vivacity to the eye, should be carefully considered in every case.

In whatever way we may view the human face, at the moderate distance at which it may be conveniently seen as a whole, it contains no severe or cutting lines. A tendency to hardness is one of the first faults into which students fall, from a too earnest desire for a minute imitation. This remark applies particularly to the drawing of the eye, and all the lines and markings which must, to a certain degree, be made prominent by decision of touch; yet, as they are intended to contrast with the unbroken threads of light and shade, these touches lose their necessary effect if softened down into spiritless lines. They must harmonize with surrounding parts by a corresponding precision of tone ; and in case of any undue hardness, it will be better to leave the work until it is dry than to disturb the surrounding dispositions by an attempt at remedying the fault, which will almost certainly fail. As each failure operates as a useful lesson to the observant artist, it is most probable that a second essay, when the portrait is dry, will be successful. With this process, by means of which force is given to the picture, the flesh painting is ended ; but there are other essentials for immediate consideration.


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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