Acrylic Portrait Painting – Learning to Paint

Painting people takes practice. Painting people or portraits in acrylics or watercolors is done by painting in layers. While you are building these layers, you may be tempted to give up too soon. As long as the features are placed correctly, painting portraits in acrylic or watercolor just takes layers and patience.

How to get the person’s feature correctly drawn.

Getting the person’s features correctly is the most important first step in portrait painting. I suggest using the grid methods to do this. In this example, you are painting from a photo or picture. Use a pencil and lightly draw a grid with equal squares on the painting surface. Use another grid and place over the photo. The grid you use over the photo will likely be a much smaller one. On your canvas, within each square draw the lines of what you see. If you want even more accuracy, you can draw smaller squares within squares. When your drawing is accurate, you can erase the grid lines.

How to get the foundation of the portrait started.

Step number two is the foundation. The foundation involves using a thinned layer of paint for the person’s skin tone. The consistence of this paint should be like watercolor. This is the under painting. Dilute the flesh colored paint with water and establish the entire skin area. You will add layer upon layer until you have built your shadows or highlights. The way that you do this is to reduce the amount of water that you add or just use the paint full strength. You should be able to see the pencil lines of the facial features. Now, use a darker flesh color and paint in the facial feature lines. Think of this stage as painting in the lines like a coloring book. After you paint in the features of the eyes, eyebrows, nose, nostrils and mouth you can work on the final layers of the finished painting.

Final layers and details in a portrait.

It is the final layers of the painting that bring it to life. Study your reference photo and notice where the shadows are. Layer by layer add the shadows. Because you are painting a portrait, don’t be afraid to add red, and even blue to mimic flesh color. Add some highlights to make features appear to protrude. For example, notice on the nose, there is usually very bright highlights. To indicate the roundness of cheeks, chins and the center of the forehead, use a few layers of whitened flesh color to add these very important highlights. The last bit may be a touch of pure white.

The last thing to do in a portrait should be your final pure white highlights. Usually a person’s lips are moist and have a touch of pure white. There is almost always a touch of pure white in a persons’ eye where the light is reflecting. Remember painting people takes practice. Painting people or portraits in acrylics is done by painting in layers. Don’t get frustrated if your first few portraits aren’t what you expected. You will more than likely need to practice and practice. Have fun and enjoy learning to paint.