22 September 2011

How to Paint a Portrait in 6 Hours

I'm doing a series of portrait sketches to practice the never-ending skills required to master the art of oil painting. I'm giving myself 6 hours to complete each painting...once the timer goes off I put down the brushes and walk away.  It's good training.  Creates a sense of urgency.  I need time limits so I don't overwork the painting, which is my tendency.

The first oil sketch in this series is a portrait of my lovely mother.  It practically painted itself, which confirms that familiarity helps when trying to capture a good likeness.   This was painted from a photo onto 16 x 12" linen board.

Here is the hourly progression........

HOUR 1:  I took my time getting the drawing right.  It's much easier to make changes at this early stage.  I blocked in the head with a small bristle filbert and thinned transparent maroon (Winsor Newton), on a linen board pre-toned with a mix of ultramarine blue and transparent red oxide.

HOUR 2: At this point I was just trying to cover the canvas, get something down that I could paint into later.  My fleshtones were mixtures of transparent maroon, yellow ochre light, viridian, and cobalt blue.

HOUR 3:  I focused on modeling the smaller planes and features of the face.  Once I had the fleshtones working, I completed the features to begin the finishing phase, and to reveal the character of my subject.

HOURS 4 and 5:  Next came the hair, clothes, earrings and glasses.  I like the vignette portrait, which was favored by Philip de Laszlo in the early 20th century, and is used by many artists today (eg. Schmid).  It has a fresh, spontaneous feel and leaves something to the viewer's imagination.

HOUR 6:  I added the pearl necklace and laid in some background, which is hard to see in the photo.  I darkened the values on the shadow side of the face to define the front and side planes more clearly.  Finally, I added a few highlights on the light side.  Finished in 6 hours.

I showed my mother the final painting and she liked it.  I learned a lot, too.  Success.


  1. thank you for sharing your process. i particularly enjoyed it because in my mind i am thinking about my own process and comparing and deciding on things i might change. lovely result too!

  2. Rahina, Thanks for your comments. I appreciate seeing another artist's process, too. For me, it's very motivating. Makes me want to get back to my easel and start another painting. Thanks for visiting. Best, Candace.

  3. Hi Candace,
    Thanks for one of most useful, valuable tutorials I've seen to date. I learned a lot, mainly, because your progression images and descriptions were perfect.
    I feel wonderfully lucky to have found your blog and have benefited immensely from your older posts, too.
    Please keep blogging! At least until you open your own studio, offer videos and workshops and write a book or three.

  4. Great portrait of your beautiful Mom. (I did a drawing of my Mom once..something was just enough off that I couldn't say I was 100% satisfied). I bet you just nailed the likeness here. Bravo!

  5. This is great, I like to see the drawing stage, really cool!

  6. Gary, You are way too kind, but I am happy to hear you enjoy these posts. The progression images speak volumes on how the painting was laid down. But, of course, there are infinite ways to approach a painting, too, so I expect to be blogging for a while :)

    I visited your blog, we share a passion for the portrait, and some great artists (Harry and Caio, among others). Thank you for adding me to your blogroll, honored. Your portrait work is very impressive, especially your self-portraits, which shine through. I've got "self-portrait" on my list of painting subjects, but somehow it keeps getting pushed to the end.

    Thanks for your visit and comments, Gary. Nice to meet you. Best, Candace.

  7. Hey, Celeste, Your comment made me laugh. I was having the same difficulty on this painting, something was not quite right (I think that's how most portraits go, after all it's not a photo). I actually had her mouth too high and lowered it somewhere between hour 5 and 6. That did the trick, at least enough to make the likeness feel right. This oil painting thing is hard :)

    Also, I finally purchased that Dan McCaw book on painting (I think I found out about him from your blog). An awesome book, set me back a bit, but it's probably worth the cost of a class or workshop.

    Thanks for stopping by. Candace.

  8. Sadeau, Thanks for visiting and your kind comments. Best, Candace.

  9. Hi, Daniel, The drawing is always under there. I've been playing around with trying to loose it and find it again during the painting process. Seems to keep the painting fresher and creates some surprises, too. Thanks for your visit, Daniel. Best, Candace.

  10. A very beautiful and touching picture of your mom. The skin tones are impressive and the portrait is very lively.

  11. Fabuloso!!!! (hands clapping) xo

  12. good sense of subject also, my best

  13. Thanks, Shelley, It's special to paint someone you're close to...that must be coming through. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Hi, Tina, Thanks for the serious effort to get a comment out to me. Third time was a charm. Your applause is appreciated :o)