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How to Paint a Portrait

It’s like a personal photo, except classier, and you can make the model look slightly more attractive than they really are.


  • Step 1: Set up Set up your easel.
  • Step 2: Let the model dress Let the model, who should be dressed and coiffed in the way they want to be immortalized, get comfortable.
  • Step 3: Pose the model Pose the model in a way that is comfortable, but interesting.
  • TIP: Do not let the model show teeth. They’ll end up looking like a monster, or worse.
  • Step 4: Light from the side Light the model from the side with a powerful, directional light. Avoid flat light.
  • Step 5: Take pictures Take a lot of photos.
  • Step 6: Give your model a break Give your model a short break.
  • Step 7: Sketch your model Sketch your model in charcoal, conté, pencil, or pastels.
  • TIP: Try to get a handle on the composition, contrast and the shape of the face. Pay special attention to particularly interesting features, like the shape of the model’s eyes or nose.
  • Step 8: Give model another break Give your model another break.
  • Step 9: Do more sketches Do at least one more sketch, with the final one in color.
  • TIP: You may wish to use watercolors or acrylics for this last rendering. Oils also can be used, but the cleanup time is longer, which takes more out of your model and slows down the discovery process.
  • Step 10: Release the model Thank and release your model.
  • Step 11: Develop the pictures Develop or import and print the photos.
  • Step 12: Prepare Prep your painting surface, supplies, and materials.
  • Step 13: Use the sketches to remind you On the final piece, use the sketches and photos to remind yourself about what you saw as important features.
  • TIP: The photos will give you a literal translation, but the sketches are where the real artistry will be found.
  • Step 14: Block shapes and colors Begin the portrait by blocking in the general shapes and colors.
  • Step 15: Refine your shapes Refine your shapes.
  • Step 16: Limit but innovate Look for ways both to limit and make surprising use of your color palette.
  • Step 17: Paint until done Paint until you’re satisfied. It’s tough, so the first few—or few dozen—might not turn out great.
  • FACT: What is believed to be the oldest known portrait was created some 27,000 years ago on a cave wall near the town of Angelouême in present-day southwestern France.

You Will Need

  • An easel
  • A volunteer model
  • Directional lights
  • A camera
  • Drawing and painting surfaces
  • A sketching medium
  • like charcoal or pencil
  • Brushes
  • Paints

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