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How to Paint Portraits with Acrylics

portrait in acrylics

“Yasuko” by Richard Grassi

Many artists have traditionally created portraits with oil paints. However, oil paints take time to dry and sometimes become yellow with age and/or develop cracks. So, why don’t you try using acrylics instead of oils? Acrylic paints dry faster and tend to age better than oil paints.

Here are some simple instructions to guide you on how to paint portraits with acrylics:
Phase 1 – Preparation

Select a subject for your portrait. You can either have a live subject (a model) or a photograph. You may also choose to paint from your imagination. Each choice has its own pros and cons.

When you have a live subject, you can get a sense of your subject’s mood and personality. The only major downsides you face when using a model are cost (hiring models can be expensive), fidgeting and schedule conflicts.

When you work from a photograph, your portrait may end up looking unnatural or stiff. It may also become difficult to discern certain details. However, using more than one photograph can solve this problem.

Painting from imagination is great fun. However, it can sometimes be rather difficult to make it look realistic.

Next, you need to decide on the dimensions of your painting and assemble your painting materials. If you don’t already have them, you can buy stretched canvas frames, acrylic paints and paintbrushes of different sizes online or from an art supply store. Red, yellow, blue, black and white are essential colors.

Set up your canvas and then position the subject. Try to keep the background as simple as possible. Ensure that the area around you is well lit and free from sources of distraction.

Use a light pencil to make a sketch of your subject on the canvas. Study the details carefully. Some artists prefer to start their portrait by drawing the eyes first and then proceed to nose, mouth and ears.


Phase 2 – Painting the Portrait

First you can fill the larger blocks of color on the canvas, thereby laying the landscape of the painting, by using thicker paintbrushes. Paint the shadows and highlights and then fill in the shape of the face. Now paint the nose, mouth and eyes. Do not worry about details during this stage.

Now you need to work on filling in some details with the help of both small and medium sized paintbrushes. However, do not go into minute details yet.

Now step away from your painting, about 5 or 6 feet, and see whether it is accurate and symmetrical by comparing it with your subject. If there are some mistakes, fix them. By the way, it sometimes helps to turn your portrait upside down to better spot mistakes.

Now, with the help of your smallest paintbrush start filling in the minutest details and rectifying the mistakes noticed in the previous step. Work on the subtle transition areas between light and dark areas and add a few highlights to make your painting snap.

Once you are finished with the painting and satisfied with your work, leave it for a day or two. Then return to it with fresh mind and see if you still feel there are any mistakes. If yes, then fix them and add the final touches.

Your portrait is ready!

OK, here’s a short, cool video showing Frank Wagtmans creating a portrait in acrylics.

Did you notice how Frank makes a sketch, then paints in the broad areas of color before focusing on the fine details? Did you notice too how he has chosen to use an unique and very beautiful color scheme? Cool, isn’t it? :)

LESSON: You don’t have to slavishly adhere to what you think is the “correct” color scheme (ie. accurate skin tones, hair color, etc) when making a portrait.

Have fun!

written by How to Paint With Acrylics staff

© GO International Enterprises.
All photos, images and text are copyright protected and not to be used without permission.

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