Picture of Traditional Portrait Painting Step by Step
Ever wonder how the masters achieved those rich colors and life like images? Well read on.

In this tutorial you can follow along as I create a  beautiful portrait of a child done in oils using traditional painting techniques.

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Step 1:

Picture of
The early painters used wood panels as supports for their paintings. Canvas came along later. I like painting on Masonite panels treated on both sides with gesso.  You can also use primed canvas if that is your preference.

Gesso is a quick drying acrylic paint that is used to prime what ever surface you choose to paint on. As it drys it shrinks, so by priming both sides of a rigid surface like Masonite it prevents warping. I apply a minimum of three coats alternating the direction of brush strokes by 90 degrees between each coat.

After the gesso has fully dried I sand the surface with fine sand paper to get a smooth surface. While some sanding is necessary how smooth you sand it is a matter of personal preference.

Step 2:

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Having properly prepared my panel I am now ready to lay out my painting. Working from a reference photograph I sketch in the main features using charcoal. This is a good time to note initial proportions and angles between the primary elements in your painting.

Many painters like to lightly seal the under drawing with a fixative before they start painting. If I were starting immediately with color, I might be tempted to set the drawing to prevent the charcoal from muddying the pigments. Fortunately I will not be laying color in until later in the process and I prefer to have the drawing blend into the initial under painting.

shpadoinkle3 years ago
Hi! I'm pretty new to painting, so this might be a dumb question, but why charcoal? Could you use a medium that won't smudge or affect the paint as easily (like a hard pencil) so you don't have to worry about sealing it, or are there other advantages to using charcoal? Thanks! :)
cvianna1 (author)  shpadoinkle3 years ago
Sorry for taking so long to reply...

The main reason I use charcoal is due to its inherent softness. I don't have to worry about it damaging the ground I am painting on. You can use a fixative or go over your charcoal drawing with ink as some of the old masters did and then lift the charcoal out if you find it troublesome. Also since I am doing a greyscale underpainting, I don't really have to worry about muddying the colors. If I was using a different technique such as starting with a color pallette I would probably approach my initial set up differently.... Remember in art there are no absolutes and many different ways to approach your subject....Thanks for your interest. Happy painting!
This is truly lovely! Have you ever had tried acrylics? If so, did you get similar results? I am new to painting, but would prefer to use acrylics, I think, because of the fumes. However, if oils are the only way to achieve these results, I may have to try them . Thanks for sharing your talents!
cvianna1 (author)  cookiekins404 years ago
I really haven't worked too much with acrylics. I like being able to take my time when I paint and acrylics dry quickly. I also like the richer depth of color I can achieve with oils, although you can get brighter more intense colors with acrylics.

If exposure to fumes is the only thing giving you pause, you may want to consider water soluble oils. I haven't worked with them, but I have heard good things about them. Also oils are not too bad when it comes to fumes, it's all the solvents you can use with them.  Some are worse than others. I don't use turpentine because of its strong odor. There are also synthetic additives that work well such as OSM, Liquin and Galkyd.

There are always trade-offs when choosing methods and materials.  One medium isn't necessarily better than another, it's probably best to consider your environment and what you're trying to achieve and choose your tools and materials accordingly.
Thanks for the insights, all good information to know.  Are OSM, Liquin and Galkyd solvents?
cvianna1 (author)  cookiekins404 years ago
OMS (not OSM.. oops. ) Odorless Mineral Spirits is a solvent that can also be used in sparing amounts for underpainting when you need to thin the paint but want to keep your paint "lean".  Both Liquin and Galkyd are both man made alkyds that can be added to paint to create glazes and increase drying time. The Gamblin website has some good information on some of the various additives available.
Wow, thanks for the quick responses and the continued stream of info!
super realistic! very nice!! you make me miss painting...
cvianna1 (author)  Alberta Leong4 years ago
Thank you for your kind words. Why did you stop painting? You can always pick the brushes back up.
use to do a lot acrylic painting back in school, but stop after i became a graphic designer. i still have a whole lot of acrylic paint at home, maybe i will start painting again some time!

happy painting to you! :)
cvianna1 (author)  Alberta Leong4 years ago
Best of luck..
I love this, I am new to oil painting and am just giving it a go. I love how you have broken it down and shown the different processes and given reason and meaning to each. I will definatley try the grey toning. Thank you for sharing x Billie Cripps
cvianna1 (author)  billiecripps5 years ago
Your very welcome Billie... This is the first tutorial I have done on Instructables. People have been so very kind that I may try to come up with some more. I am just trying to figure out what would be most useful to folks.
Arbitror5 years ago
Wow, good job!
that is really a nice painting
cvianna1 (author)  weaponscollector945 years ago
Thanks, looking at the painting, I realized after I wrote the tutorial that I had left out all the cast shadows... a well back to the easel.
i think it still looks professional!