This article gives simple tips on how to paint a portrait of someone. We start with the basics of how to draw. And then move on to how to ‘fill-in’ a drawing.
Summary of Drawing Techniques used here to make a portrait of someone
When you draw- you want to ‘see the lines’ that compose the object or person that you are seeing.
Look at how the lines (outlines, etc.) relate to each other. Ask yourself:
How long is this line? What is that angle of that line? Where do they meet? etc…
By doing this, and sketching in lightly the lines that you see, you will quickly compose the image of what you are seeing.
It’s also helpful to think in terms of the ‘shapes’ that the lines make, and the curves that they consist of too.
Tip: Draw lightly in pencil so you can erase easily your guide-lines as you refine your image.
Tip 2: Try not to think of the terms ‘nose’, ‘eye’, ‘head’, ‘hair’ etc. When drawing. Instead try to analyse the shapes and lines and their relationship to eachother. This is how we draw and paint things that look accurate; rather than using the symbols that we learned to draw as children (such as the round head and triangle nose etc…).
Once you have defined some clear lines (and shapes, etc.) that you think matches what you see, you can start to put in some paint (if you want to make a painting).
Summary of painting techniques used here to make a picture of someone
The painting process shown in this video involves creating blocks of colour on your page to match the colours (and the shapes that they are in) on your reference image.
You will see that colours don’t need to be an exact match, to make something that looks well.
If you understand shadows (light and dark, and the gradiations in between) you can match these, in your image by applying light and dark colours (squint your eyes if you need help to judge this); which will help to give form to your object/subject. When you add in some appropriate colour it can look cool.
Here is the [shorter and more fun version of the] video [5 mins]↓
Here is the full length version.
Full length version of video. This includes details of what I am doing and when [vocal] as well as subtitles
It’s your turn, if you want it
Give it a go, and take a chance. You may be surprised how well it looks when you combine a few colours together (after getting the initial sketch right).
Remember, in this tutorial, and in art in general, if you are making a portrait, it’s probably for the effect of capturing someone’s character (more so than their exact likeness).
Did you enjoy this video? Leave a comment below, or reach out if you have any questions. Email: andrewbrettartist[at]gmail.com
This guide will give you a quick overview and some pointers that you may find helpful when choosing a photograph as a reference image for a portrait commission.
The basic points to guide you are:
Keep the face as the main focal point (even if doing a full or half-body shot)
Make sure the face is well lit and that we can see the eyes clearly
Make sure it is an expression that is typical of the subject (so that it looks like them!)
Avoid arm and leg gestures that lead the viewer off-the-page
Faces and Eyes
You want to be sure that you are getting a portrait where your subjects face or faces are clearly seen. This is presumably what you want to do—unless you are aiming to achieve some unusual effect. For now we will just keep it simple.
It’s important to catch the eyes, because they are often the most recognisable part of a person. The eyes have been described as the ‘windows of the soul’. In a portrait, you are attempting to capture (or at least represent) something of a person or subjects soul. So most of the time it is very important that you capture the eyes appropriately. The same is true of the face, or at least, facial features.
Sometimes an unusual expression might make an interesting picture, but it may not make the best reference material for an artist to make a portrait from. You should remember that when you commission a portrait, it may come to represent the subject in a long-standing way. That is why it is important to get an image that gives a true reflection of the subject.
Problems with selecting a suitable photo for an artist to use as a portrait painting reference(Lighting)
The biggest obstacle to seeing peoples faces clearly in a photo can include poor lighting or a poor contrast. Poor contrast is caused when the background or some other aspect of the picture is pulling attention away from the face that you are trying to portray.
The face above is naturally lit and we can see it clearly. It is not in shadow. The background is also quite clear—so it doesn’t take away from the subject. You can select an image with a complex background (and sometimes this is the best way to tell the story that you want to create) but keep in mind that complex backgrounds (or other details in an image) can take away attention from the main subject. So it’s probably best to only use a complex image when it helps to tell the story. You may, for necessity, have to choose a photo with details that are not important for the finished product. You can talk with your artist about this, and see if it is possible to take only the elements that are required from the reference photo.
How viewing angle can influence your choice of photograph for a portrait commission
Where we (as the viewer) are in relation to the subject, makes a big difference in terms of how we perceive them. The view-point in the photo above is from below the eyes of the person. This makes it seem like we are looking up at the subject. The effect of ‘looking up’ at the subject can seem to ‘glorify‘ the person, and/or create an ‘epic‘ feeling for the picture.
To contrast this, we can imagine that a view which is looking down at the subject would put the subject in a ‘down’ position. This could perhaps be useful if we wanted to create a sense of pity, or perhaps empathy with a subject. You can easily imagine how looking down at a homeless person sitting on the street, or perhaps a small child standing on the floor would make sense. They are somewhat naturalised positions. Of course, not every shot will be from a ‘natural’ angle.
Looking from the same level suggests just that – it puts the viewer and the subject ‘on the same level’.
Choosing the right composition as a reference point for a portrait commission
The composition basically means how the elements of the photograph are placed in relation to each other. You want to make sure that the main subject is clearly the focal point of the image. There are also things at play, like arms and limbs etc., or other ‘visual lines’ that may be present in the image. These can lead the viewers attention in particular directions around your picture.
For instance, you can see below (in the girl with trees) how the lines of the picture are almost all pointing down the way. The tree lines (including the branches, which are mostly mostly pointing down the way) and the arms and fingers of the woman. These lines naturally lead attention downwards towards the end of the picture—and eventually—off the picture! As a result of this, we kind of have to ‘fight’ internally (against the flow of the image) to keep our attention on the page. Contrast this with the composition below it (Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’) it and you will really see what I mean.
Using a [reference] picture with a composition such as the woman in the trees above makes it difficult for an artist to create an image that will comfortable hold attention.
Issues with arms and legs in photographs
The extended arms position of the ‘woman in the trees’ makes it difficult to crop even higher up (as you could see in the first image) because the hands are below the waist.
For added contrast you can see that the woman in the trees could be cropped up higher on the womans body, as in the image at the top of this post. However, the issue is still the same, where the lines lead the viewer ‘down-the-way’. The gestures of the top image keep the viewers attention back towards the subject and stops it from going off-the-page.
This image is cropped above the knee. We can contrast this with the crop that is below the knee in the photo of the woman in the trees. Another problem with cropping towards the end of a limb is that we have started to ‘read’ it, so we naturally want to see it all in conclusion. Cutting it away kind of cuts the story short after we have invested our attention in reading some of it. This is frustrating for the viewer, if even on a sub-conscious level.
In the image of the woman looking at the river, we can see that the subject is looking up, creating a nice dynamic because we know that the sunlight is coming down (we can almost feel it in this image B-)). This dynamic is supported by her left-hand, which a sense of floating, or rising upwards. As a result of this ‘floating fee’, the images welcomes our attention to remain comfortably and interestedly on the subject. This ‘hanging around’ allows us to get a good sense of the feeling that she is experiencing.
This image of a woman near the water also shows how a dynamic shot with a complex background can look well – though this probably works better as a ‘snap-shot’ than it would as a portrait per-se. This is because you want to be able to see subjects the eyes. I would say that this shot represents a moment, and a feeling, rather than a person.
When you are choosing a suitable picture for a portrait commission, you want to create a dynamic in the image that holds the viewers attention. Certain crops can lead a viewers attention ‘off-the-page’ while others can keep it focused on the main subject area—and this is what you want to achieve.
You also want to ensure that your subject is in good light. You can read more about good lighting practice (here) in this article on composing your own photo.
If you have questions about any of this, please let us know. You can comment below, or send an email. The address is in the Contact page.
If you are having difficulties choosing a suitable image as a reference point for a portrait painting commission, or if you are just unsure about whether the images that you are looking at may be suitable or not—feel free to get in touch with your query. We will be happy to get back to you with a ‘no-fee’ perspective, with no obligation to buy.
Deciding the correct size painting size when buying art or a commission can be a tricky concept. You may have some ideas about where in your house or place that you want to put it. It requires a bit of imagination to get it right.
Otherwise it’s just kind of taking a chance.
Fortunately you can use to make a mock-up to help you get the rights size for your painting/artwork commission. Using a mock-up helps you imagine how your finished picture will look as a particular size in your room or place that you are planning to put it.
Using this technique (cutting out a square/rectangle the same size as your finished piece would be), you can determine if particular dimensions will be good for your finished piece- by putting it in the location(s) that you are thinking of.
If you are testing a range of sizes – start with the largest one, and cut the smaller ones from it. You can cut them from the centre of the same cardboard to save resources and you will still have an outside frame of the largest size.
This is an article about setting up, or making use of lights and natural lights in your photograph.
Setting up your photo means getting the right angle and crop of the subject; and also, making sure that the light is right. So that you can see the subject!
It’s simple enough, and we don’t think too much about it in the modern world when we are taking many photographs, perhaps on a daily basis with our mobile-phones etc.
However, when it comes to creating a portrait (you may want to use a photograph as a reference material, for the artist), you will want to make sure that the light set-up is right.
This means typically that you can see the subject well. Or at least that you can see the parts of the subject that you want to see. This is the basic approach.
The more advanced consideration is to make sure that the photograph works well as a composition. If, for example, part of the subject is much brighter than the subject, that may attract attention away from the subject face. See for example below:
In this picture you can see that the lighting is behind the subject. This means the subjects face is essentially in the shadow. Even though we can see it clearly enough, the fact that the background is so bright, it draws attention away from the face. Also, the face is kind of dark. You can see that even the brightest parts of the face are much darker than the background (window). Our eye is naturally attracted to bright areas (the light) so to try to use a photograph like this immediately sets up a tension in the viewers experience. This is a no-no, unless it is something that you want to do (perhaps for some artistic reason? – probably not).
However, shadow can be used for dramatic effect in a photograph. See the examples below for examples.
This is a naturally lit shot. Presumably from a window where sunshine is coming in onto the persons face. This is most likely shot with a professional camera that controls how much light comes into the camera; and for how much time. Having control over these factors allows us to pick up on the details of an image in ‘low-light’ conditions.
See also the following shot, which seems to have been professionally set-up, using a single light source in an other-wise dark room. This is admittedly not an easy one to set up, but the principle is good to keep in mind as we move forward.
Here we see an example of a single light source on a subject in an other-wise dark room. There is lots of shadow as the light only hits certain areas. This is powerful for creating dramatic effects in portraits. The previous images were probably enhanced using computer software to adjust the brightness and contrast to achieve such stark results. However the darks and lights in the original photography have to look similar to this to avoid looking too manipulated.
Here we can see a naturally lit shot. It is lit from the side, by sunlight, through a window.
The phone (camera) is mounted on a wall (with blue-tack attached to the phone case, and the phone then inserted, to avoid damaging it with pressure) and then set on a self-timer. This is a nice trick if you want to have free hands in the photograph and don’t have a photographer or friend around. Also a tri-pod or similar will work for you. You basically just want the phone/camera to be still in one [correct] position.
This is also a good place to note that the selfie lens on most cameras can actually distort the image of a face. You may have noticed this where the selfie lens makes your face appear wider than it should perhaps. The reverse lens of a phone will usually create a more accurate image. This is important, particularly if you are sending the image to an artist as an accurate reference image.
This final image brings together a lot of what we have talked about. The light comes from the side, yet is so bright that it illuminates a lot of the subject. We can see everything fairly clearly in terms of the dog and the womans face. This means we can get an accurate description of the subjects for a portrait representation; and also, we have good light that add’s a lot to the mood of the piece. For example here, giving good warm energy to the piece. These are also important considerations when choosing/creating reference material for a photograph.
To summarise, the portrait should be well lit to a degree where ‘the important’ aspects of the subject are well lit. This might be just the eye as we saw earlier. Or it might be the full face. Or just part of it. You decide what is needed to communicate your angle on the portrait.
The light source can be natural or man-made (or a combination of both; though care should be used in mixing them to ensure that colours are not too much affected). Whatever kind of light source you are using will create a shadow. The shadow’s should be looked for when composing your shot to ensure that you have a ‘balanced’ image.
You should also ensure that the light is on the areas that you want to ‘highlight’. That is to say, if the brighter part of your image is not the area that you are necessarily looking to speak about—you may want to re-consider the composition, or the angle of the light (perhaps facing the sun, for instance, if it’s a naturally lit shot). You generally want the most important part of your picture to be in the light, or the brightest part of your image.
There are of course ways around every scenario, but these are rules of thumb that should help to keep you on the right track when creating your portrait.
If you are having difficulty with this- reach out and let us know your problem. We will try our best to help you.