Anatomy of an oil portrait. Work in progress.

Stage 1 – I always start an oil portrait with an accurate pencil drawing applied directly to the canvas or panel. In this case I am using an HB pencil on a stretched linen canvas of 12 × 10 inches.

Stage 2 – I then create an underpainting by blocking in the main shadows using a neutral colour. Here I am using Vandyke Brown oil colour diluted with white spirit applied in transparent washes. I avoid using any linseed oil at this early stage as it prolongs drying times.

Stage 3 – I continue with transparent washes using muted colours to define the basic hues and tones and leave it to dry thouroughly.

Quite often I’ll use acrylic paints to get to this stage. As they dry so much faster than oils I can work much quicker. I can finish the underpainting with acylics in a couple of hours instead of a couple of days.

Stage 4 – I then add contrasts and begin to refine the hues and intensity of colour still using paint diluted only with white spirit.

People have often asked which part of a portrait I work on first.

I prefer to work on the whole canvas. I find it much easier to judge contrasts and colour balance this way rather than working on the eyes first then trying to paint the hair with the same intensity.

Stage 5 – At this stage I start to thin the oll paints with a medium consisting of equal parts of white spirit and linseed oil. I apply them in semi opaque glazes, gradually blending the tones but still allowing the underpainting to show through.

I use as limited a pallette as possible and avoid mixing colours, preferring to use the underpainting to alter the hue and tone of paint straight from the tube.

So far I have used…

Vandyke Brown
Alizarin Crimson
Titanium White.

Stage 6 – Continuing with semi opaque glazes I begin to refine the shadows and start thinking about adding texture and detail. Still working on the whole canvas to keep a tonal balance.

Things become very slow going at this point as each layer need to “dry” before overpainting it.

Stage 7 – So far the highlights are simply the white of the canvas showing through the semi opaque glazes. Here I add the highlights blend the skin tones and continue to add detail.

In this instance I feel I’ve overdone the highlights in many places. These can be toned down and the whole colour balance altered in the next stage.

Stage 8 – I’ve added some glazes of burnt sienna to the warm up the flesh tones and some yellow ochre to the background to create a bit more depth.

I’ve toned down some of the harsher lines in the hair and softened the edges.

Stage 9 – The finished painting. I’ve blended the flesh tones further and added a few tiny highlights using titanium white straight from the tube

It’s taken 13 days and I’m about 75% happy with the final result. I could play around with it forever but risk overworking things

The final result can been seen here

Anatomy of an oil portrait. Work in progress.

Martin Kirkwood

Hayes, United Kingdom

  • Artwork Comments 5

Artwork Comments

  • Romo
  • Siamesecat
  • Beverley  Johnston
  • Katmosphere
  • Martin Kirkwood
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

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