Something new

Now I have never painted a portrait before, so this was as you can imagine a big leap into the dark for me.
Although I was not really worried about the painting side as I felt this was after all, just another painting.

It was capturing the essence of Gracie I was more concerned about especially as the reference photo I chose was not particularly close up

A Limited Palette

I decide to limit my range of colours to 6 to simplify the process, in fact these 6 will mix probably 80-90% of the colours you will ever need, so this is a cost effective and a great way for beginners to start out. The knowledge gained from mixing your range will stand you in good stead and save you a bit of money.

  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cadium Yellow
  • Cadium Red
  • Raw Umber
  • Titanium White
  • Yellow Ochre

First task was to build my base colour from which I could create a range of tones, so I started off with a dark skin tone by mixing blue,raw umber, red, and yellow in varying amounts until I achieved a rich ruddy brown/neutral tone

By splitting the base colour and adding varying amounts of white I was able to create a range of colours (called strings by artists) from my darkest dark's to my lightest lights.
I was then able to tweak this range of tones or create new ones by adding degrees of varying colour, for e.g. adding blue to cool a colour down or brown or red/yellow (orange) to warm it up, or using complimentary/opposite colours to neutralise (for example yellow + blue to create green which greys my tone down )

Getting the Essence

So having my colour strings set, I sketched my portrait being careful to get everything correctly positioned by using a scale divider to ensure all Gracie's features were the same measurements as my reference photo. I then began to block in my colours and at first all seemed to be going well but when the paint was all in, I was not convinced I had caught her.

At first I thought that my shadows and highlights were the problem so I carefully tweaked my tones with glazing.
I decide to leave it a couple of days to allow the paint to dry a little and also let me view again with a fresh eye

Having a break was the answer as It was apparent that the problem was with the mouth, but when i used the scale divider to check all the dimensions against my photo they all matched. So I was left wondering just what it was that was missing, as it was not plainly obvious


I was tweaking and re-tweaking the mouth trying to find what was wrong, and in the end it was a tiny change to the top lip which suddenly transformed the image and there she was, my little girl.

I think for a first attempt it is not all that bad, and I am sure that if I devoted a year to this highly specialised form of painting I might even become proficient. However, the next time I see a good portrait in a gallery I can appreciate it with a new knowledge, knowing just how much skill was needed to create it.