Lots of beginners yearn to paint portraits of their loved ones. While I understand the impulse to leap into the deep end, and just do it, in particular if they have a photo they love and want to copy, nevertheless, I want to persuade beginners to realise that the best way to discourage yourselves is to set yourself up for disappointment.
I know this sounds a bit hard, because everyone needs to start somewhere...but all I want to make you understand is that if you find yourself disappointed with your results, it is not necessarily to do with any lack of talent on your part, it is purely to do with lack of learning, and experience.
So what is the answer if you REALLY are determined to get to grips with portraiture?
I seriously recommend that rather than simply picking up a photo and copying it, you start by finding out all you can about portrait drawing and painting. there are good books out there, perhaps in your library. One I really recommend :
THE ARTISTS COMPLETE GUIDE TO DRAWING THE HEAD by William L Maughan.
He will show you how to understand value and tone, shadow shapes and edges, the form in light, the main principles of drawing the head including perspective, proportions, what to look for when tackling all the individual features of the head, structure and anatomy, highlights, and more, how to draw hair, putting it all together and the end section moves you from drawing to painting. Now perhaps, after reading this, you will see how much there is to learn about, and you will learn masses from him. It is an enjoyable journey. Take a long, hard look at his drawings of eyes, ears, noses etc, and try copying them before you begin working from your own reference material - or model. This is terrific practice - as an art student, I was recommended to copy master works regularly.
Also, try looking at books on anatomy of the human head...understanding the underlying structure is very helpful indeed.
Find images which show how the features fit onto the underlying skull, seen from different angles and directions. Look at these angle changes:
Then, if you have to work from photos, take good ones. NOT with full face, and flashlight. Flash flattens form. Try lighting which is more natural, from a window to one side, for example.
|Good portrait photo to work from, see how the lighting clearly shows the depth of the eye socket, and the form around the mouth, and the side plane as well as the front plane of the forehead. Look at how the light beautifully describes the nose too.|
- Make sure you are comfortable and familiar with the techniques of your chosen medium. This involves techniques practice. It is a good idea to practice quite separately from "doing a painting". Practice with a purpose, perhaps making notes as you go along to remind you how you achieved certain effects.
- learn and absorb all you can about proportions, and how to measure accurately.
- Also ensure you have a good understanding of how to translate colour into the right tones.
- In fact, it is a good idea to begin with working just with charcoal or conte - in just one colour. William Maugham will show you how in his book - as you can see from the illustration above.
- When starting with colour, it is not good enough just to equip yourself with "flesh"-coloured paints and pastels. There are books on skin tones in portrait painting and how to work with paints and pastels. How to recognise what light does to skin tones, and what sorts of colours to use in shadow areas. All useful info, it will help enormously.
I know this all sounds like a lot of work on your part, but I believe you will find it pays off in the end. You cannot make a cake without breaking eggs, my mum used to say!
I hope these words will encourage you to keep trying, but to keep trying with your eyes wide open and with a willingness in your heart to learn and grow and achieve success in due course.