Portrait faces

It’s always a good challenge to try and get a recognizable face in an oil portrait.  Faces are the most funnest things to paint out of everything. I do a lot of monster faces which is a no brainer, but it’s a nice thing to be able to get a good realistic likeness in oil.

Ultimately I would love to paint like Holbein but until i’ve been doing this another 30 years and have evolved to mastery, I will do what I can do and teach myself by lots and lots of practice.

I’ve gotten a lot better at faces. Most of the most recent portraits I’ve been doing are copying colour printed out photos of paintings that I’ve found on the web – I pick the subject, then google it till i find the pose i like, then I print it out in a size I want.

I transfer the lines of the face to the canvas by rubbing the back of the paper with a pencil and then drawing over the front.

Yes I know there is a new-fangled invention out there called ‘tracing paper’ but since I’ve consistently forgotten to get some every single time I go near a stationary shop, I do the manual-carbon-method!

Then I block in usually blue acrylic, let it dry, then i build up the layers of skin tone. it usually takes 3-4 layers of oil to do a face, starting with very basic colour blocks and getting finer and finerBlocking in the basic colour over the base acrylic – zombie queen and pinko tyrannosaurus


after about 3 more coats, the queen’s face was done:



Another example showing at least two coats of oil colour (over blue under painting) and then the finished version. this also has the decapitated cut out photocopy i was working on blu-tacked to the wall behind the painting:



I do a blue under painting cause it makes it look a bit fuller. thinner paint allows the slight blue to come through – and people tend to be blue underneath with veins and stuff, so it adds a layer of realism that leaving it out does not give.



charles close up

I have on the odd occasion too just done as best a copy as I can do (like if the photo is small or I’m feeling adventurous), this one was freehand:


She seriously was not a great lady to paint in a good way, you can’t make her look good, and the portrait this was based on, she looked far far worse. Tudor portraits were often pretty naff, I don’t think Mary had the worlds finest at her court. There is not a single nice picture of her. Then again, Jane Seymour got a lovely painting but it made her look like she was sucking lemons.

This lady caused me massive grief to get right. I finally did it but her face was painted and repainted about a billion times – the paint on the face is thicker by far than the rest of the canvas. And she ended up looking really like my friend Polly!


Sometimes the resolution is very poor – to a certain extent this can be helpful in picking where the colour should go and not being distracted by details, but you need the details to compare it too and know you’re going the right direction.

Sometimes I work from black and white so all the colour decisions are mine.

Or I only have a tiny picture – too small to get really good likeness – this one, her face I really did too small and it irked me, despite the fact it came out ok. but the whites of her eyes are so titchey I had to use my smallest brush and just dot the whites in.


I’m currently finishing up a picture of another famous English monarch. The face was the least part of him, really. I free handed it in from a black and white copy of a smaller size.

There should be a blog post fairly soon about it. THIS HAS BEEN DRIVING ME CRAZY, Every surface is a different decoration. Plus the bling. my goodness, the bling. I’m over bling!