How to paint portraits with acrylics


To write a live, direct portrait, which will be sensitive to the mood and character of the hero – a really difficult task. Such work requires academism, understanding of the basics of anatomy and a steady hand. At the same time it requires flexibility, the ability to make adjustments by adding details and making each portrait a unique work of authorship.

Acrylic portraits are very popular right now! We don’t have enough article to list all the possible directions. And of course, like any other material (watercolors, pastels, markers) acrylic paints have their own characteristics that determine the sequence of work, the nuances of technique and stylistic features.

Let’s briefly touch on the main nuances:

  • Acrylics are fast-drying paints, they are diluted with water to the right consistency, as well as to prevent premature drying.
  • Because of its dense texture, acrylics blend to the canvas almost as well as oil paints. Once dry, acrylic paints have excellent staying power.
  • Depending on the consistency of the paint and the tool you choose (brush strokes, bristles, synthetics…) acrylic paints are able to adjust to the technique of different materials. Acrylics can imitate light watercolor and pastose oil strokes.
  • But do not forget that it dries quickly and irreversibly, which means you have to work quickly and confidently. You can’t wash out the light stains as you do in watercolor, and you can’t change the wrong area all day long like you do with oil, you have to apply a new coat.

The principle of working with a portrait.

The same as with any solid paint – sketch, underpainting, base, details.

1. Sketch the composition

It’s important not to scatter the viewer’s attention and to remember that the face (mostly eyes) should be in focus. But for a portrait to be more expressive, try drawing the shoulders in addition to the head. Or waist-length body, as well as hands – they can be as attractive as the face and face and play an important role in the composition.

Mark the contours of the future drawing with a light pencil line. Show the direction of light and the arrangement of shadows.

Remember, we are not drawing a face, nose, eyes, or hair. We are drawing three-dimensional figures. Each drawing is a combination of light and dark shapes. Each drawing is an illusion.

2. First coat of paint

With the first coat of paint work out the shadows and the darkest places, mark the key points. The choice of color depends on the overall color scheme of the idea: black and white, monochrome, cold or warm. In a classic portrait version, umber, sienna, kaput mortum and saturated blends for the darkest areas will work well.

At this stage, pay attention to the background as well. Clothing, surroundings, hair – it’s important to outline the shadows and details at once, so as not to lose the integrity of the composition.

But don’t let yourself get distracted by small details! Focus on large areas first, and then start adding details. To make it easier, you can squint your eyes, take a few steps away from the painting and visually “blur” the image.

3. paint the skin in all its colors

For this, mix Neapolitan yellow (a soft translucent shade) and ochre with white paint, add some reds and a drop of blue, such as blue FC. Dilute the mixture considerably with water. Apply a second coat of paint directly on darker, denser areas. Those areas that need lightness of tone, write in diluted shades (paint with the addition of titanium whitewash).

At this stage paint very thinly, so that you always have an opportunity to easily overlap the unsuccessful stroke with a second layer.

4. Deepen the shadows, add volume to the work

Work on the darkest areas with the third layer, gently blurring the transitions, creating a translucent layering to control the color. The wet-on-wet method, where the next layer is applied over the undried paint, is the best way to achieve a smooth transition. But a smooth transition can also be done on a dry surface, using a dry brush is handy for this.


5. Working with details

Drawing the eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes, small folds and highlights on the lips, as well as the details of the background and clothing. This is a very painstaking and long phase, it requires patience and does not tolerate haste. Work with a thin brush, try to catch those barely visible to the eye nuances of facial expressions and features of the appearance, which make the person himself.

To achieve color harmony, use a limited number of colors. Mixed together in different proportions, they will unite the entire composition into a whole.

Of course, you can’t paint a realistic portrait on the basis of these tips alone. Learn to observe, study the anatomy of the head, try to find landmarks for a quick and accurate construction of the face – these are key points. Draw more from life – it’s not easy, but it’s a great way to hone your skills!

Posted in Art