Saturday, January 26, 2013

Painting Portraits from Life

Back in October 2012, I joined a figure painting group here in Gainesville and I am really enjoying the experience. Our sessions consist of painting the same model for three hours, with break intervals every 20-25 minutes. My first painting was of the full female figure. Then I decided to paint only the head for a while, giving me the opportunity to focus on facial features and structure.

The studio has wonderful daylight shining through the two tall windows. Models face the windows and there is an additional studio light placed either to the right or the left side of the body, for stronger contrast.

Painting from life in a new setting presents several challenges and takes me right out of my comfort zone. I am learning to pack lighter, bringing only the essentials.

Here are the items I am currently using: One 8x10 gessoed panel, three paint brushes, six tubes of oil colors, 1 roll of paper towels, 2 pencils, 1 plastic box to hold the wet painting, tape, turpentine, easel, and recycled plastic trays ( I use for a palette ).

(A recycled plastic sushi tray :)
The oil colors I've selected are: White, Radiant Yellow, Quinacridone Red, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, and Dark 1 of the Sanden Pro-Mix series. I will continue searching for an ideal limited palette that allows for optimal color mixing and radiant skin tones.
As for the brushes, I can almost complete an entire painting using a number 8 flat. The zero liner and zero bright brush come in handy for adding fine details and shading areas of the eyes, in particular.

My process of painting portraits from life differs from the method I’m accustomed to using.  At home, I paint from photographs, selecting from an “unlimited” color palette of 65 (yikes). I enjoy working slowly and revisit the same image over the course of days or weeks, until I am pleased (enough) with the end result. 

Painting portraits in this new setting really pours on the pressure. I have to “see” more quickly, since there are only about 2 hours of time to capture the subject. I try to draw the initial lines of the face onto the panel within the first 20 minute segment. Then I begin laying in the dark and mid-tone colors during the second session. Since the panel is tinted in a neutral tone, it is easier to see the shadows and contrasts, rather than beginning with a pure white surface. Next, I’ll add highlights by mixing colors to include pink, orange, light purple and light blue. The addition of white is placed last and used sparingly.

I normally adjust the studies at home over the course of a week, comparing each portrait with the previous one. Most of the time, it is a matter of adding more highlights and tweaking the background. Revisiting the paintings helps to determine what to duplicate the next time around. And unfortunately, some of them end up being beyond repair.


  1. I was the model for this portrait, and I have to say it was a pleasure 'sitting' for Eve. She is a very warm and friendly, and obviously talented artist, who made the whole experience enjoyable.

  2. Thank you for your very kind comment, Alan! You are one great model and gentle soul. By the way, the group is still painting portraits, if you want to join us again. Your amazing patience and skill to sit for three hours was much appreciated. HNY + best wishes to you in 2014! :)


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