View Full Version : MTM Classroom - Portraits in Acrylic

05-14-2009, 09:55 AM
Welcome to the
MTM (Member-to-member) Classroom

You will find the classroom host list and guidelines here:
MTM Classroom Host List and Guidelines. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=522453&highlight=host+schedule)

Portraits in acrylic are possible and this particular classroom segment will touch on my particular methods for doing one.

Note: I will not be doing a too extensive classroom as my schedule has changed and I no longer have my days off all week unfortunately, as was expected originally. So please bear with me if I have to miss a day or 2 in between posts :-)

I will be concentrating mainly on methods in order to use the acrylic paint, and not getting into discussing Portraits in general. I will try to lay out in stages I paint in, how I go about working up a portrait in acrylic.

Some brief background on me and acrylics: I've been using acrylics since grade 11 art, introduced to them by an instructor of our painting class. That was 27 years ago now. They have changed a lot since I first discovered them.
I have always been drawn to the human figure and particularly the face. My inborn desire has always been to paint representationally, mainly because my whole reason for painting a person's face was because elements of that face, the way light hit, etc., were visually thrilling to me. Therefore, I need to mentally and emotionally need to experience painting and capturing those elements in my work, bringing them across to myself as well as to any other viewers my portrait may end up with. My work tends to be muted in palette, as opposed to vibrant. I tend to lean towards more natural, earthy colours and avoid the synthetic colours or "man made" type colours in my paint tubes.

Please feel free to ask questions about anything, along the way.

For my 2 week classroom demo, I’ve chosen to work with a reference I shot about 3 yrs ago, of my children’s former babysitter. This was taken by a window, at her parents’ home. There is light and shadow, but not high, dramatic contrast, so we’ll be getting into mixing subtle skin tones here. Values will not have huge variances. This is a pretty simple portrait so will not take too long therefore is great for the classroom.

I have used a 9”x12” cotton canvas, which is prestretched and gessoed. I also toned in a warmish raw sienna/green/unbleached titanium mix so as not to be beginning on a white surface. I try to keep the surface tone a mid to light, and something that will also help keep my skin tones rich and also do some work itself, in the portrait. I find this helps give a richness to my pigments, once they are layed in on top, as well as causing the portrait to make blending easier and for the portrait to have harmony.

My reference: I will upload and replace this once I find my digital file. this is just a photo of my ref photo for now, so is not really great.


05-14-2009, 10:09 AM
1) First stage, is to draw her up. I begin by marking in a light head size, then curved lines through where the eyes, mouth and nose fall. I indicate the perspective very crudely, as well, so that I can avoid getting the angle of the face the viewer is seeing, wrong from the start. I then begin the drawing in the eye on our right area most often, for a portrait. I pay attention to distances of the major shapes and work towards detail, from there. That is why you will see little "geomentric" shapes on my portrait drawings. This is the major shadow shapes somewhat indicated. This helps map out the planes and the features accurately, in the drawing stage, so proportion and likeness will begin accurately. Much more of it happens in the initial painting stage however. I don’t use shading in this drawing as it needs to remain as clean as possible a surface. I then will blot back, with a soft eraser, excess pencil/charcoal. In this instance, I used a charcoal pencil.



05-14-2009, 10:54 AM
2) This stage is the under painting, to get in the value’s levels, mids, shadows, and lights. This way, I won’t be struggling with the colour stage, trying to get the values right at the same time as mixing and laying in my pigments. I use to begin with colour straight away, but 4-5 years ago, I began using an under painting and I found it organized my stages much better and my painting went more smoothly, without a lot of the chaotic struggling work of back and forth, in the colour stage. Letting your monochrome stage build your form, and values, means that the colour stage is way less work and I maintain much more control with it, free to work intuitively, blend with not much problem, etc. Plus, it adds richness and depth to my acrylics and avoids that flat colour “plastic” look if you will, that often is the complaint about the finished look of acrylics, when they are desired to be used in a more traditional manner, by the artist.

My Palette: titanium white
unbleached titanium
raw sienna
yellow ochre
burnt sienna
raw umber (use occasionally)
alizarin crimson
cadmium red light
cobalt blue
permanent green light
ultramarine blue

Underpainting mix: raw sienna
aliz crimson
ultr. mar. blue
perm. green

I will tend to use mainly a sepia-ish pigment, varying it slightly with blues or reds, depending on future needs of specific areas.

The way I lay in the pigment is by lightly rubbing, with my brush held at a slight angle, in consistent direction. This way, a soft and controlled gradation happens, allowing me to go from very lightly pigmented areas (very little pigment being applied) for my mids/lights, to more coverage (will sometimes introduce the blues into my mix) for drker mids/darkest dark areas. My paint stays the same semi wet consistency, it's the weight of applying it and the amount of pigment that gets layed down on the surface that controls my building of light/darkness of the areas.




05-14-2009, 11:23 AM
Thanks a million for taking this on!! I'm in....can't wait to watch what you do with the hair (my big stumbling block!)

05-14-2009, 11:34 AM
Very welcome :-)

Unfortunately, her particular hair, and it's colour, are not a good examples of huge challenges with hair but I'll try to go in to painting hair in general a bit more indepth when I reach that point here, and hope it'll help.

05-14-2009, 12:37 PM
I'm already impressed! Thank you for doing this, I haven't done portraits in quite a while but use to be all I did, I'm looking forward to reading and learning and honing some skills. Hoping as well to join in, there's one of my oldest grand daughter been wanting to do, this is a perfect time to do it.


05-14-2009, 01:34 PM
:wave: Hi Jocelyn,

You've chosen an excellent photo for the demo and it's already shaping up beautifully! Portraits are my biggest challenge so I am all ears and eyes. Thank you so much for leading this class!:D


05-14-2009, 01:42 PM
I hope that this does benefit some, particularly those struggling with acrylics for portraits. Basically, I don't strictly want this to be a "set in stone" formula, more a presentation of a method that works for me, and one I continue to develop. Others may want to adopt some of this method, if not all of it, with their own confortabel methods.

My method, in a nutshell, is very light, controlled drybrushing or scumbling if you will, to achieve gradation of my pigments on the surface. This in turn creates visual blending of the areas, with some transparency happening, as well as eventually combining with more opaque strokes in the late stages. I use very little paint, it is fairly "dry" almost in consistency, and my surface is flat to the touch for the complete portrait. There is no hard pushing or tough physical effort to my "drybrush" method, it is very feathery and soft really.

What I may do, down the road in this thread, is try to get my daughter to do a little one min. video so the actual movement I do can be seen, which may help better than words.

I will update this later tonight and then not till Saturday

Li'l Brown
05-14-2009, 04:24 PM
It all makes sense to me so far Jocelyn. The value of working on basic drawing skills is quite evident here.

I may not get to join in right now but I will be watching with great interest and referring back to this classroom in the future.

BTW, a video would be fantastic!


05-14-2009, 04:44 PM
Oh wow! As soon as school is out and our vacation week is over, I hope I have time to participate!!

05-14-2009, 05:40 PM
Yes, definitely, about the drawing skills. They have to be strongly in place, I truly feel, before going to the next stage of painting in representational portraits. There, to me, is no use developing painting skills before drawing skills are well developed and are second nature.
To be honest, this drawing worked very quickly for me and very accurately right away. Often, the issue I tend to notice after I've often already put lots of time into a drawing, is that my perspective is slightly off in my portrait. Now, I double check myself from the very beginning on that point.

05-14-2009, 06:50 PM
Jocelyn, I am going to be haunting this thread...still working on the last portrait that I plan on doing for awhile!! But surely can use help! Thanks for doing this!!

Boy, am I good at changing perspectives half-way thru'!! This should really help!!

05-14-2009, 07:16 PM
drawing skills,, sigh,, I suck at drawing skills..

05-14-2009, 07:52 PM
Well, it's like anything, you just gotta keep at it :-)

05-14-2009, 08:04 PM
Underpainting Continued

3) In the under painting stage, I put out 4 colours on my palette (b. sienna, raw sienna, ultr. blue, aliz. crim.). Even though it’s pretty much monochromatic, I do vary that pigment of the monochrome layer a bit, when that first colour will need to eventually be leaning towards a certain colour, ie: the rosiness of the lips, cools in the shadows, the darks in the eyes, etc. Hence why I put out 4 colours. I do not allow myself to put out a light colour yet, for the under painting stage, although you can if that is more comfortable to you (it comes in the very next stage for me and also tends to enter the "opaque" arean if done). I also try to think ahead as to what will be going in that area later on, and that is why I do slightly vary my monochrome under painting in pigment. But, I do not paint in the "actual" colours here yet. I don’t vary far from my main monochrome, which tends to be somewhat of a sepia, either leaning towards ochres or reds. Where there will be darker darks, I use more pigment, where the area will be lighter, I use less pigment. I am using a ¼” wide bristle synthetic somewhat bouncy soft brush. I am using my paint semi wet, not drip wet, using a sort of drop down method for edges and a more “rub on” method for mass areas small and large. I rub back and forth, almost in a staining way, as opposed to one direction lay in, with my brush. Keeping the paint semi wet, sort of sticky consistency, allows me to cover an area evenly in a soft rubbed in blend that is semi transparent to opaque, the amount layed in depending on if it is to be a light, mid or darker area. The tone underneath helps keep the blend nice and visually soft, especially where I end the stroke. I try not to end off in hard edges but in gradual gradation, at the end of my massed in areas. This is done by the amount of pigment coming to its end on my brush, and planning where to end off accordingly, as well as controlling the weight of my strokes. Less pressure for lighter areas and more pressure, and pigment subsequently, for darker areas.

The way I build up the form, is by using very little amount of pigment on my brush, and I rub lightly, back and forth, almost similar to sketching to build form. I always dab off my pigment on a paper towel pad beside me, before touching the brush to the canvas.

Notes: I use very little, to no water. What will eventually happen though is that with just acrylic, then picking up the blending fluid to mix with your colour, after a few times your paint can become too dry and almost gummy. You want a bit of drag and resistance in order to have drybrush work, but you don't want no pigment being put down or inconsistent small globs then bare spots, then globs again either. This is where I'll quickly dip the tip of my brush just in the top of the water, and I'll dab it off on the paper towel getting the paint consistency a bit sleeker again. I never want wet or especially dripping pigment on my brush. This does not work with my soft drybrush layer method.

The white is Golden Acrylic Glazing Medium (glossy) -it really is not making a glossy or shiney surface however, to my dried paint, which I don't want anyway. I prefer matte to slight satin finishes.


Kathrin G.
05-14-2009, 08:07 PM
drawing skills,, sigh,, I suck at drawing skills..

......says the one who just posted a gorgeous drawing in the WOYE :lol: :lol: :lol: Nothing wrong with your drawing skills Mary :)

Hi teacher :wave: this is going to be a great class, thank you for hosting it :clap:
I am not even any good at people portraits in pencil, leave alone acrylic :rolleyes: but I will be reading along :) :thumbsup:

05-14-2009, 08:12 PM
4) In the next stage, I usually will decide if I need to go further with the monochrome under painting, or do I want to get into the mid skin tones, and the masses of lights.
Here, I decided that I wanted to begin establishing the light area masses. Mainly for the sake of taking this demo to the next step. Normally, I'd complete the underpainting, right through the neck and clothing, before getting into the next stage.

I begin by mixing a mid/light, not the lightest light. I used unbleached titanium, a bit of ochre and aliz. crimson, neutralizing it’s vibrancy a bit with the green. Her skin is very olivey and not translucent but very opaque and even toned, so I also am using a lot of raw sienna and ochre in my mid/light areas.
The lit side of her face is cool and the shadowed side and shadows will remain more warm. The light from the window is cool so the shadow areas will therefore be kept warm, while any highlights will be cooler.
As can be seen, I am leaving the whites of her eyes as the light warm green/taupe surface tone. I will then only need to introduce some variance of cool and warm lights in them later on.
The way I lay in my pigment is by using my ¼” chisel, very little pigment, and very light almost feathery rubbing the pigment softly, letting up where it ends in the area I am in.


05-14-2009, 08:28 PM
Well, Kathrin G, your portraits in your banner don't look too shabby to me! :-)

I do have to leave this till the weekend but I'll check in for any questions.
Hopefully this will have ok flow as I've done a lot of this in advance, and am posting past stages already worked on, continuing to finish this as I have time. Therfore, I am actually always going to be further along with this than the last posted stage in the thread.

05-14-2009, 08:48 PM
Thanks so much for doing this. I've been waiting for this!

I have a dreadful cold and may take a little bit to get really started. A day or two only.

But again, thank you!

05-14-2009, 09:30 PM
I had to gesso a canvas and wait for that to dry so I decided I'd play around with this on paper first - it's a different process because I am using a watercolor style but it was fun to try to keep up with what your focus was while I tried to interpret that on paper....I'll start on canvas in the morning.


05-14-2009, 09:39 PM
Fantastic Jocelyn, I have always admired your work and your knowledge...this might be a good opportunity for me to problem solve some of my portraits that I am less then satisfied with as well as learn a lot from you...love your tertiary pallette ...off to read through the thread!!!!

HUGE THANK-YOU for doing this too!!!!!

05-14-2009, 10:01 PM
Thanks very much rmc.
Yes, gaykir, wc would be a whole different process. Since it generally is transparent, I would not do an underpainting in a monochrome for a wc portrait.
Ah, I guess I forgot people work along with these classrooms lol! I really have not had time to look into the other ones really. Therefore, I will need to replace the reference with a more accurate, better file. I will have time on the weekend to hunt it down in the older files no longer saved on my computer hard drive.

05-14-2009, 10:04 PM
Thanks Katherin, that means alot to me.
Gayle! that is nice!
Jocelyn, I am def looking forward to watching this,, I am so impressed already!

Charlie's Mum
05-15-2009, 06:23 PM
Thanks so much Jocelyn for doing this - I really want to learn cos portraits are not easy at all for me! ......... and I've already learnt from your posts above.

Yes, most of these class threads are 'interactive' but that's cos we want to take advantage of you while you're here!! :lol:

I'll be back tomorrow :wave:

05-15-2009, 08:25 PM
Thanks Maureen.

I'll have to readjust slightly how I was approaching this then. I kind of did not investigate that lol! Things are just way over the top busy for me for the most part, and I had not looked into the other MTM classrooms prior to mine, nor rechecked the format.
I'll run it sort of how I'd planned but I am unsure how much help I can give to those progressing along side. I will try to, mostly by answering questions, if they arise. Mainly, I wanted this to be available mostly for those who may want to make use of some or all of it, within their own continual future development with acrylic portraits. I mention this just due to the fact that I now work 4 days a week, indefinitely, which is a whole different scenerio, and a totally unexpected one for me,then early in 2009 :-) So, I cannot be as available as I could have if I had been off completely, like I expected.

I'll upload some early afternoon tomorrow (Sat) :-)

05-15-2009, 11:18 PM
Hi Jocelyn!!:wave:
Wonderful classroom so far.. Love your method with the underpainting etc.. My biggest problem is the sketch, I am not so good with sketching!!
Isnt there a set way to measure for features of the face.. like eyes and eye with apart etc.. I dont remember the rest. getting the shape of face and nose right distance down and above the mouth etc. Could you help with that area a little more clearer.. I realy didnt see the geometric shapes you mentioned in the sketch, might jut be me.
I'm still new to portraits, geting little better with skintones each one.. but if it wasnt for the projector I'd be a mess with porportions. my first 3 portraits I use the grid method to enlarge my photo onto the canvas.
I realy would like to sketch better, and need to practice.
Watching this closely!!:wave:
Thanks for doing this!!

05-16-2009, 12:43 AM
Hi Jocelyn :wave:
I'm fairly new to painting, and I would like to try a portrait. I have a photo of my granddaughter I would like to do, but have been relucant to start. I have decided to take your class to give it a try. Thanks for taking the time to instruct us.

05-16-2009, 09:40 AM
YW Chris :-)

Hi Kath: The shapes I am talking about are on the finished drawing. Can you see those sort of non-organic shapes? They are more sort of oddly geometric? These are major shading masses I've indicated the rough shape of (it's hard to do in line, easy to do when painting as their edges are often too undefined to have a definite "line" edge), as well main shapes of shadows that will later be there. I draw those as I also am drawing the features, as they often help in keeping the distances and sizes (what make up a person's proportions) accurate.

To be honest, it's an eyeballing thing for me. I visually "check" back and forth from my ref to my drawing. I do not physically measure or use a grid. I have never found grids conducive to developing my drawing skills. My hand needs to develop it's own "flow" and I needed to develop my eye to hand co-ordination and my visually seeing if I have it all correct. These 3 things need to happen simultaneously and flow smoothly. There really is no way to jump ahead from No or very New drawing skills to very strong and second nature ones. It takes working on drawing all the time. More so, it takes learning to observe, bring that to your eye and brain, then transfer that to your paper, etc.

Projecting will help a skilled draftsperson to learn how to break down their subject in the large, neccessary masses, accurately. So, once your drawing skills are practiced and stronger, it can be a great tool for learning to "edit" your drawing stage for the portrait. Hopefully that makes sense. I project if I have a commission where I am using a lot fo various reference and need to establish beginning with the most important ref, need to make sure of exact size and placement on my canvas, or am not particularly interested (bored lol!) in spending lengthy time drawing out my composition. There will always be the next stage of drawing, working on top of the loose drawing from the projection, as well, if one projects. Often, projections are hard to see and outside edges are not so clear, nor are areas of same dark tones beside each other. So, being prepared to still do further drawing after projecting and line drawing.

There are methods of drawing, using measuring tools, and various other methods, but for the sake of this demo, I mostly want to concentrate on physical using of the acrylics to do the build up of a portrait most of all. Drawing is something that an artist needs to continually work on over time. Draw, sketch, from things you see. Be strict with yourself about whether it is accurate, learn to visually look and judge by eye, whether you have your drawing correct to the object/person in front of you, whether it be a photographic ref or from life. The more you do it, the more skilled you'll become. Trying to learn it from a presented set of instructions is not, imho, going to work for developing drawing skills. It is a skill that just needs to be practiced often.

I, however, will touch on it briefly and will add to this (in about 2 hrs), a small set of diagrams as to how I begin portraits in general. Here are the main criteria in my drawing stage.

-look for perspective, or "viewer eye level", and angle of your object/person.
-block in a very light and rough shape determining the size and placement of the main object or object (in this case it was her face)
-draw contour lines for features, quickly and lightly, first determining the center line form top of skull over face, to down over chin-Your Center Line of the Face. Then, determining the perspective and fall of the features.
-start blocking in the features, in an area that feels most confortable or "useful" in beginning to establish the features, their proportions, etc.
-pay attention to shapes Between your features, their size and therefore the space distances.
-begin detail honing only once accuracey in the above first steps are determined. If you feel you are off, don't get into the detail till the "offness" is corrected. It could be that you have the head's perspective off, you could have a mixed perspective (where eyes are facing dead center forward but the rest of the face seems slightly turned away from the viewer), etc. Is there correct foreshortening if the head is looking down, or up dramatically, or tilted back And looking up, etc. Things like that, that really need to be observed carefully and also take some ability to "see" and "think" 3 dimensionally while rendering something in perspective on a 2 dimensional surface.

Note: One of the biggest things is that you have to know what you are seeing. In other words, you have to be able to garner quickly that "yes, her head is tilted slighty away from the viewer, and she has her head tipped just slightly down as well, and I am slightly above the subject so have a very beginning of a birds eye view", etc. Being able to visually determine the perspective of a subject or object, and keep that in mind while doing the drawing, is a main ingredient to beginning a good drawing :-)

This is a close up of the drawing stage, changed to B&W on my computer. I have indicated 2 samples of "geometric" like shapes that indicate for me shape of areas of shadow, and can also be highlights, that are important in helping determine distance and size of space. These shapes on the chin for instance, help me keep the size and shape of the chin accurate for later. If I don't travel, via these shapes, to the bottom turning edge of her chin, I could risk drawing her chin too large, to long, too narrow, etc. The more shapes one pays attention to from Point A to Point B, will keep everything accurate as possible. Hope that makes sense.

Note: I only draw in or block in the ones I find necessary for me. You can use or eliminate as many as you need as you draw. Mainly, I pay attention to the ones that determine shapes of edges of features, as well as large distances as in the cheek, chin, mouth to tip of nose, or side of nose, etc.


05-16-2009, 12:22 PM
Here are the diagrams which show how I tend to begin my portraits, from a photo ref or life.

The top left is the one from this demo. You can see in the ref that her head view is a 3/4 view with my eye level being just below hers (she is taller than I) and you can see the slight beginning of a then tilt back of her head, very slight, but it it there.

I have also shown here, from my head they are drawn, 2 other perspectives of a head and how I'd begin those if that was the subject's head view. There is one where the head is looking down and I am at an eye level above and back from the head slightly. Then there is one where the head looks up and I am almost at eye level with the subject. I have a total front facing straight at eye level view to the right there, to compare the others to.


Once I have established my subject's proper head perspective, roughly, in this manner, I begin blocking in the areas where the features sit, and their own perspectives, roughly. I did some indications of this here, so you can see it.
From here, I'd work further according to that subject's specific and individual proportions of facial planes right towards definite detailed shapes of the features. I'd not leave one stage inaccurate, as best as I humanly can observe, before going gung-ho into the next stage and then to the final detail stage.

Some Notes:

I won't get into this too lengthy, since it really is a whole huge indepth subject on its own, but I want to touch on this one subject in a small way.

Certain perspectives and views do create certain "moods" or "perceived emotional relationships, reactions, deductions, etc." about the subject.
For example. The fact that my subject is slightly above my eye level and has her head tilted slightly away from, and not towards me, can cause the viewer to perceive that this girl is a confident, strong, and almost maybe can feel "superior" to me, the viewer of her. If I were to lean her more towards me, and raise my eye level to her brows or slightly above her, this causes her to come across as perhaps more friendly and inviting, and possibly more accomodating a person. Looking down at a subject, with their head slightly downwards can perhaps create a more submissive feeling in the subject.
So, how one presents their subject can create certain reactions from the viewer. It can be subtle to very dramatic. Light then also comes into that. And so on. All these things come more in to play when "artist's intention" enters the arena.

This portrait, I just happen to be shorter (what's new! lol) so the confident and outgoing attitude she does possess is coming through but it was not done intentionally in this case lol!
A very flattering and generally, more traditional hang in your living room appealing portrait could have been planned by me by having my camera more at her brow level, slightly looking down at her and having her lean in slightly to create more depth in her portrait, so that her neck recedes a bit back from her face plane. However, happily enough, how I presented her here, due to making no provisions in shooting my ref, actually works with her personality that I know :-) What I will need to watch is when nostrils become very apparent, that they don't become a strong focal point then. I will have to keep them in the mids range and not the darkest darks range as is often the instinct to make them, these little shadowed crevice openings and eventual deep caves and tunnels in the human nose :-) I want to avoid that "piggy" look when looking up at someone's nose. Here, it just begins, but if she were to have her head looking up more and tilted even further back, it would become more extreme.

05-16-2009, 12:57 PM
Dry brushing sounds like lots of pressure and strength is needed, but truly, I do it so very lightly that at times, my brush barely is touching. I vary the weight and amount of time depending on how much building up I need. If I only want a very light hint of a tone on top of the lower layer, I barely touch and only enough to get it there. This method creates very soft layers that visually blend as well as are very soft gradations physically too. This creates very soft ending “edges” between areas, building up the form of the face as well as coming up to edges of features like where the nostrils begin, or lips begin, out of the flesh. If I want a bit of harder edge in small spots, I drop very gently with the corner or edge of the brush, a more distinct mark. This will happen not along an eyelid all around, but maybe in the very corner, or the crevice where the corner is created when both lips meet the flesh of the face, etc. This emphasizes, with a more definite mark, various deepest shadows or darks.


This image is a bit overly pink in the photo, so I apologize for that.

In this stage above, I am beginning to establish the major shadow masses and areas. As you can see, I don't leave blank spaces where there are eyes, mouth, or nose. They all get worked at the same time with my mid tone mix here.
It is difficult to break this down into individual steps but I tend to add tiny brush tips to my main colour mix as I want to neutralize, warm up cool down, darken or lighten as needed. So, in essence, my original mix is never staying the same. I use a mix everywhere I feel it needs to go, before moving on to the altered mix for the next step, but it does not always fall into a very precise sequence. This is kind of the area in painting where instinct clicks in and it's very hard to write down literally, in text.
In this area, I am generally still just working with large masses, not defined detail. Even eyebrows and lashes are a small mass, not individual strokes to show "hairs".


This is now progressing to a more definite separation of mids, highlights and darks.
I prefer to work well inot the face first, and catch up the hair and neck as I feel they are needed. I do need to bring them up so that my values in the face don't become influenced by the non-remaining surface stage values around them in the unworked on areas.

Often, a mix I am using to drybrush and bring up a highlight on the shadowed side of her face, can work perfectly as the shadowed areas in the lit side. IE: the shadow shapes on the side on our right, were the same pigment mix for those highlights on her shadowed side, on our left. I may only alter, with a very small titch of added paint, their warmness or coolness if required. Best to only add pigemtn to your mix in very small amounts. This avoids the error of going to far and having to mix back.

Generally, in order to soften, lighten or darken, or blend too hard meeting areas' edges, drybrushing softly and patiently with a low pigment amount on the brush, will create the gradations and subtle blends that I want. Layering in this way, allows the underneath work to be influenced by the top layers, but it all remains somewhat transluscent and never strongly opaque. So, to get those highlights on her shadowed side, where some light is managing to hit, I don't need to rub very much pigment on that area to get those there. The fact that is is softly rubbed on, keeps the gradation and blend visually soft and not hard edged.
Same thing if I've done too dark a layer or too large of an area. I can gently rub in a slightly lighter tone that sits beside it, up and into where the dark area incorrectly is, and recede it back (basically, cutting back into already layed in areas to alter their size or shape). This happened to me in that little dark shadow area, where cheek meets nostril edge in a little crevice, to the left of her nostril on our left. I did too much there with the dark and I had to go back in with the mids and lights to reduce it's size and shape.

The whites of the eyes are mainly cool neutrals. As they reach the inside of the eyelids, I have dropped in hints of the warmer flesh tones. IE: near the corners and near the top lid, etc. So, there will be cools and warm specks and there will be value differences, even in the whites of an eye.

In areas like the brows, I will often let the brush drag over certain spots in the brow, in order to great depth and value differences, as well as to begin to suggest "hairs" Having the flesh meld in and out in thinner sections of the brows, like the highpoint before they go down at their end, eliminates that pasted on look and allows the viewer to perceive that they emerge from the flesh, not sit attached to the surface, like eyebrows do. So, never be afraid to "drag" flesh into unsolid areas such as brows, lashes, hairlines, etc. It looks way more believeable and not like areas are cut and pasted on or beside each other. That flesh is below all those things (and can be seen in varying degrees, through), like hair, so the more they are harmonized in the painting process, by allowing them to "mix", will create a more life like portrait in the end.

This was my mid/light mix that I was using for her forehead and lighter side of the face.


Note: This is now how far I am with this in real time so I will have to paint further, before putting up the next post :-)

Charlie's Mum
05-16-2009, 02:21 PM
Jocelyn - I'll be back later but just wanted to say you really only can give as much as you are able!
Please don't feel pressured because we want to 'join in' - we'll try to keep each other right according to your instructions, when you're unable to be here!
In any case, many of these classes seem to build a life and energy of their own and the momentum keeps them going:D
We're delighted that you're able to do as much as you have already! Thank you!

I'll be back later - perhaps tomorrow to digest all this latest = phew!!!! :D

05-16-2009, 02:36 PM
Thanks Maureen.
Yes, true, this'll take on a life of it's own and that's good too. It may be something that a person may also want to put away for later. If one wants to follow along and work up a portrait of their own, that's good :-) Everyone is at different levels too.

Note: I found the original image file on my old CDs that I transferred all my imaegs 2 a couple years ago. So, I have replaced the original ref with a better quality file, way back at the beginning of this thread.

05-16-2009, 07:03 PM
awesome. Much appreciated

05-16-2009, 07:39 PM
Earlier today, I continued in the face. I worked mid tone, quite neutral small areas in the nose, around the eye on right and in those small planes within planes there. I also deepened that shadows on the side on our left. All with very light thinnly rubbed in pigment. The blend looks even softer in person than the screen image here and colours are slightly more muted than on the screen too.

It was time to get into the background too. This will help keep the values in the face correct.

Don't be afraid to let those big background strokes meld with hair edges. The eye will not see the hair edges as distinct when looking at the focal point, her face. So, I try always to paint the hair like that; more fleeting and indistinct or "tightly" rendered. I will choose some choice detail in parts of the hair, usually near to the face, as well as some whispy strands where it is loose around the head.

I will try to elaborate better on this stage, later.


05-17-2009, 08:23 AM
:wave: Great information and pictures Jocelyn! I am anxious to give a portrait a try using your excellent advice. I love the spontaneity of your style from drawing to painting and the explanations on the geometrical shapes (using as a map). Your demo painting is coming along beautifully! I'm always excited when I see another installment. I'm also looking forward to seeing the video if you get a chance to do that. I'm especially interested in seeing the dry-brushing method you described.

Thanks again for doing this, even though your work schedule changed. I think too that this will be a thread that is visited many times after it's 2-week run and be of great help to acrylic painters of all levels attempting portrait work. :D


05-17-2009, 08:26 AM
:wave: Gayle - what a wonderful rendition of Jocelyn's reference! I was noticing especially the way you've rendered her skin tones perfectly! I'm looking forward to seeing the canvas version as well. Your portraits are always so well done!:thumbsup:


05-17-2009, 10:53 AM
Acrylic use for portraits is challenging but it's very satisfying to manage to do. I hope this helps a bit with anyone who may be struggling and perhaps finds this method works for them, or is already kind of going in that direction.
There are other ways of working with acrylic. On a more hard, less textured and less porous surface, like primed hard board, I find thin washes are a very useful way of building up form. Similar to how wc is used. I do still use an underpainting for that surface, but more leaning towards mid skin tones as the basis for the monochrome stage, since the glazing technique is much for transparent.
One can also drop down opaque thicker strokes and shapes, in the same manner an alla prima painting would be approached, with acrylic on canvas or on hard board. It's all a matter of what is most comfortable to the artist. You just kind of have to figure out which direction you naturally are leaning, and develop from there.

Note: I want to update on what will possibly be occurring here in the next week and a half. An unexpected possible circumstance has come up and it may impede my ability to do anything on this till well after next week.
My son's rugby team at school, is being asked to billet students from England, so they can play against teams here. We may have to put up 2 kids starting next Sunday night. I have very little time to perpare for this so will need most of this week's free time to do so. Therefore, I may have to put this aside till after next Wednesday. I'll know more for sure by end of this week.

Thanks; Jocelyn

05-17-2009, 02:26 PM
We will be waiting when you get back.

05-17-2009, 03:05 PM
I have managed to get a Lot done today so I can do some progress tomorrow on this painting and upload a post.

05-18-2009, 07:24 AM
Thanks Jocelyn for all you're doing here - it's great. I love your work and to see it develop with all the great explanations of each stage is wonderful.


Li'l Brown
05-18-2009, 08:54 AM
Yep, good stuff Jocelyn! Much appreciated, too.

05-18-2009, 01:25 PM
Thank you. I am glad it is of some use :-)

Today, I should make some progress on this so will have a couple stages to go over here.

This morning, to begin on this, I wanted to bring the hair edges back up again, out from the background. Later, if they become too crisp and flat like, sitting to much "on" the background, I again will "moosh" their edges by dragging some background tone back over them, softening some back out of too sharp edged focus.

Once, long ago, someone told me, I think it was at the hairdresser's I used to be a shampoo girl at in my mid teens, that "all hair has red in it" So, for some reason, this seemed valid and I've always had that in my head. I always tend to begin hair with a warm "reddish" tone, no matter the colour it is. It creates a very alive base for hair.
For the darkest darks, I am using a mix of blue, green, crimson and a touch of raw sienna where it needs to be lighter. I use lots of mauves and purple browns for the more lit hair and a very deep blue/green purple "black" for the darkest darks. I don't mind if some of the individual colours like the green or crimson, come through (if my mix is not fully mixed at all times) as dark areas have their variances too and are never fully solid "black". In order for them to have dimension visually, the very darkest darks as well as the lightest lights, need to have some indication of subtle value variances.

Some of the shadowing under her eye was too solid. The way I break up too solid areas or too defined lines and edges, is by very lightly rubbing in a slightly lighter pigment, cutting up into and through the area. I did this in the eye area on our left. First, I rubbed in darks to build the shadow then I take the slightly lighter, warmer tones and rub back into that dark area, to bring back contours where they become lighter ie: the fat part below the brow and the cheek and temple area. I find that going with slightly lighter over darker works best. Doing a bit more than needed with a pigment lay in, then cutting gently back into it, almost "sculpting out" your lighter area, really allows for a soft visual gradation in your blends.

Note: Once my daughter is back, after today, I will get her to do a little video showing the drybrushing and my laying in of pigment over pigment. It'll make it easier than words can describe, to actually see it

Much of the laying in here, my paint is so very dryish in consistency, that the pigment amount that goes on is very light, therefore only lightening or darkening the area I am drybrushing it on in a very small gradation of value.

Sorry, I have this image a little too warm than it is IRL.


05-18-2009, 01:39 PM
In the next stage, I began really looking at the smaller areas within areas, like the bridge of her nose, and top of the ball of her nose, and the little tiny planes under the nose and above the mouth, as well as the light side areas around her eye. Here now I am beginning to really define these much smaller areas, which give her her specific characteristics and therefore, work towards really keeping her likeness there. I work back and forth, adjusting my mixes very subtley, to keep it either cool or warm, as I go and as I see I need. My dry brush strokes in these types of small planes within planes, are so very light and delicate, due to the size of area I am working on. I keep my paint for this, very sticky dry so only thin soft layers are going on, not opaque solid strokes, that cover completely what is below them.

For subtle small shadows or highlights in eyes, I use a slightly thicker dab of pigment, off the very corner tip of my chisel, and dab it on so very gently so as not to make it too large. If it becomes to intrusive or solid, I dab it down once with my finger, and this softens as well as removes some excesss paint.

Next stage, I will begin building the neck and back into the hair. The neck area covered by hair, will need the same kind of treatment that the background/hair areas need. They'll need some back and forth, to avoid the paste on cut out look.

I want to note that these are Liquitex Heavy Body acrylics and some Golden acrylics I am using. Even though they are not the Open acrylics, I find that sufficient time is there to get some "smooshi blending ability" whcih is similar to using oil paints. Using them almost from the tube and adding the odd dab of belnding gel, gives them this consistency and ability. This is what happens in those areas such as where the hair hits the shoulder, or meets the background, etc. That way, you can get soft edges easily, with acrylics. The only difference is that it's a one or two chance thing, not an ability that allows one to keep working that method over and over in an area, like with oils.


Again, I apologize that these are a bit too pinky on the screen probably, as well as the highlights being a bit lost here compared to IRL. I find that the screen intensifies my pigments so much more than they are IRL on the portrait.


This is what my palette looks like, as I mix and apply, during most of this stage. If I need to go completely away from my mix, like needing a light again when my mix is so dark, I begin a new area. What I tend to always do is graduate my mix as I go, in a very close gradation from light to dark or visa versa. So, my mix is always kind of morphing with my needs, as I paint. If that makes sense. Sometimes, I'll use only a portion of my mix, to adjust and use, if I know or atleast think I may need the original mix again right away.

In this stage, it is harder to describe what I am doing because a lot of the work in the face is now very small, subtle and specific.
One thing I will say is that the more you break up planes within planes, the more the portrait would become highly tight and realistic. My work tends to have only a medium breaking down of smaller planes within planes, therefore maintains a somewhat painterly look while being representational. I go far enough to really get the likeness and portray the features I enjoy about the person in the first place, but my portraits do still show shapes and strokes of my brushwork.

05-19-2009, 09:33 AM
Will be back at this a couple days after next weekend. Hopefully, able to add the video too.
Have a good week!

05-19-2009, 03:33 PM
Amazing Jocelyn, looks a little daunting for me, but if I don't try I'll never find out.
Gotta get painting, it's depressing outside, it snowed yesterday, of course that always happens the May long weekend.:envy:

05-19-2009, 05:35 PM
May long weekend does generally Stink yes lol! It's even earlier this year too.
Basically, getting used to acrylics and how they react, and how to achieve what results you want from them, is a first good step. Really, anything you set out to reach a certain level with, always takes time. As well, one never really stops learning and developing either :-)

05-19-2009, 06:40 PM
Thanks Jocelyn I will get started.
Here is the reference I'll be using. It is a pic of my granddaughter Marlee with Alva.
I'm going to do it on a oval canvas, 11" x 14", (that's what Grandma wants).:angel:
I thought a light green background to complement the red dress.

05-20-2009, 09:07 AM
This can make a gorgeous portrait. I'd personally choose to do this in watercolour with some pencil crayon to add texture and oomph, if this were mine. Her face is totally lit so really, this would suit a more illustrative style, concentrating mostly on her features. However, it can work in acrylics. There is one acrylic painting, on my site, a little girl with stuffed toys, which has simiar issues and lighting as this reference.

This is such a cute reference and the angle and everything would work so well for a portrait!!!


05-20-2009, 10:55 AM
I thought I'd give the process a try, I haven't finished the background or hair. It was great having the references. I tended to add more blues than the siennas and then blend the siennas into the skin later. I also ended up adding a lot of green tones into the skin in the shadow areas. I think I have finished the face, but am always open for suggestions. I still have lots of work to go!http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/20-May-2009/117957-pratt2.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/20-May-2009/117957-pratt.jpg

05-20-2009, 03:19 PM
Checked out the pic on your website, Wow!! If I can do half as well I'll be very pleased. Thanks so much for your input.

05-20-2009, 04:33 PM
http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/20-May-2009/117957-pratt3.jpg I finished up the painting. Thank you I enjoyed the lesson and the different technique for the underpainting. I have even put this thread as one of my favorites!!

05-20-2009, 05:03 PM
TY Chris. Chris, see how the face in the one I mentioned, from my site, kind of has the same sort of lighting and even values? In a way, a portrait like that becomes more about illustrating likeness and features, and minimal modelling and shading. I thought that might help as an example.

Colleen. I think the skin tones on here look good. I find that I do use the grey/greens a lot in skin. Even beginning on a light to jsut beginnign to hit mids surface ground can make fair skin tones sing. The green can be allowed to work under your skin tone layers too, for shading, if allowed to peek through in spots.
I like that portrait! I like the dramatic rich darks, broken by the light collar, then the fair skin tones. It's great!

05-22-2009, 08:20 AM
Update: I will be able to add to this on Monday :-)
Have a good weekend all


05-25-2009, 08:27 PM
Hope everyone's weekend was great :-)

I am back today, working on this.
Unfortunately, I had spend about 3-4 hrs on it, had it exactly as I wanted, then messed up the face on our left.

You'll see where the darks are moved back and that cheek has too much area. I will rub back in the darks, softely, to bring them around to envelope her cheek, where her hair meets it and casts some shadow too.

One thing that will happen with acrylics, if an area is worked on too long is that it may become too slick and shiney. What happens here is that too long is taken, and too many back and forths, with the paint strokes. Thsi removes that initial original texture of the canvas that aids in drybrush technique. Then, one has to sometimes resort to more thin layered glazing with the strokes.

The light side of her face is done but I will bring back the darks, then I can scumble back with mids into any darks, to control their shape and variances of values, if needed. However, it is at that point where not too much more paint on that surface there is wanted. The finished stage has to be achieved in only a few strokes.

There was a reason it happened and I atleast know what I did to cause this to happen. I did manage to salvage it, luckily, but the surface is compromised slightly. Trickery is now needed to have that area fit with the texture of the rest of the surface. So, sometimes, the best knowledge one can have is the sound ability to "know when to leave things well enough alone" lol! There is always another day.

Later in the week, I will get into the hair and neck. I also will have my daughter to a small video. She agreed to do one, "later", as she put it, lol!

The neck I did get into, and with a larger courser chisel for the main areas. However, I'll get further into it later. I never want the neck to be as defined as the face, as it can cause it to be overly linear and "shapey" if so. It's often best, I find, to let the neck be slightly out of focus and nto so tightly defined, as the subject's face. That way, dimension of space is suggested, by the facial planes coming forward, and the neck slightly receded in space. The highlights on her neck, so far, are almost exactly as strong as those on the face, and we want to try to not have that, so that her face comes forward, not her neck too. Softening them even a bit more, and deepening their value a slight bit more, will help create that "visual depth" of space.

Note: Sorry again but the image's shadowed areas are coming across too orange and harsh on my screen images.


05-26-2009, 08:14 PM
Chris, gorgeous photo of your grandaughter! LOve all that hair!!
Colleen, wow this is amazing, what a great likeness on this one!! Congrats, looks great!!

05-28-2009, 01:49 PM

I am impressed with your lessons, and your people turn out beautifully.
I am keeping all your teaching from this.

Before the lessons started, I did a search of all your postings and learned what I could from you--a lot! I am not a detail person, as you are, but still I picked up a lot of good info--more subdued colors (love that buff titanium!), non-orange colors in the skin tones, the importance of an underpainting,etc, and etc, and etc.

So, thank you!

One difference for me is that I like thick paint and texture. So I won't be doing exactly what you do, though I may try it sometime. Still, as I said, I have learned a lot from you.

Thanks for sharing.

05-28-2009, 05:42 PM
You are welcome.
Yes, true, my method and paintings don't contain textural strokes or end up with surface texture.

I will be working further on this tomorrow, and I will have the little brush method visual video done too, over the next 3-4 days.

The next few stages are really harder to describe in text, as well, because now my mixes and brush work is very specific and often small and subtle, not making real major changes in the painting. However, there is still a lot in the neck where major brushwork can still be shown.


05-29-2009, 11:56 AM
I feel I have to inform, since this is a workshop thread, that I possiby yet again have brought a painting to an unsalvageable point :-( Unfortunately, rushing, among other things, did not help. My time is not as open as it should have been at this time in the year, due to changes that occurred this winter, for me.
I will most likely have to begin again and bring it up to the point I screwed up a perfect portrait, before I continue.

I apologize and will keep everyone informed once I have it back on track, one way or the other.


06-01-2009, 02:20 PM

Wanted to say thank you for posting all this. Also I am really hoping you do continue it til completion. I have been away from art for the last 2 years or so, and recently am back to WC. My strength lies in graphite portraits, but I had a few years ago began teaching myself painting. I have done numerous landscape acrylics, murals, and even a few large commissioned pieces, but still had not gotten up the nerve to attempt a painted portrait. I just found this and am looking forward to reading every bit in an effort to learn enough to try. Can I ask what happened to this painting.... it was progressing wonderfully, and I personally know I go through a phase with every painting where I want to smash it to pieces.

Again thanks, and if I do a portrait in the near future can I call on you for technical advice?


06-01-2009, 08:37 PM
This painting I had to toss. I should have walked away the day I was not focused, and began to wreck the surface, working in the hair and shadow by the eye on her left.
This portrait was progressing perfectly, so to say the least, I am very upset. However, to be honest, it is the least of my worries right now.
I apologize but I don't see this being possible to re-begin any time soon.
I will be honest and upfront and I have to inform that my life is somewhat not always in my control and it has become extremely busy and unpredicatable the last few months. It shows no sign of lessening any time soon.
You are always welcome to contact me on Wetcanvas, regaridng any technical things, etc. and if I can help, I will. However, my time has become severely limited, for many reasons, and altered since the beginning of 2009, so I cannot promise.
Thank you and I apologize sincerely; Jocelyn

Please feel free to unstick this thread.

06-01-2009, 10:32 PM
Too bad time is a consideration for this class, I am enjoying it and learning a lot as well. Thank you again for giving us what you can.
Actually it has worked into my schedule well, I have been very busy myself, Spring gardening etc. and I participated in my first Art show this past weekend.
I did get some work done on my portrait. Let me know what you think.

Charlie's Mum
06-02-2009, 07:56 AM
Jocelyn - thanks so much for the time you've spent - and all the valuable info you've given.
I know time has been difficult for you but I'm sure we all appreciate this class greatly!

The thread is still open to anyone who wishes to post and we'll all try to help each other - even when Jocelyn cannot be around :D

06-02-2009, 08:58 AM
Thank you.

Chris, try not to think "fill in coloured areas by their colour" for now. Build up your underpainting in masses, concentrating on values, in more of a monochrome. Colour will come later. Also, keep your underpainting not too opaque and dark, it'll be easier to work over it. Working in the background early, will help keep your subject's values, as well as later on the tones, on track too.


06-03-2009, 02:39 PM

Thanks so very much for this class! I appreciate your painstaking descriptions and examples of your work process, it helps me understanding how working in acrylics differs so much from oil painting.


06-24-2009, 01:32 AM
I'm just seeing this thread for the first time. Such a shame about that painting, but it does happen. Fortunately for the rest of us, there are still some valuable lessons to be learned from this thread.

06-24-2009, 09:08 AM
I've just switched to oils. I may not be revisiting acrylics for a long time. I needed a change as this had been happening a lot over the last 1-2 years. Needed a change and I have to say, oils are easier.

The initial stages are really much easier to write about, and the most important, so hopefully there is enough here. The painting was going and the rest of the stages would have just completed the clothing and details, and balanced all elements like background, figure, values, edges, etc. One tendancy many artists have is to treat everything as it's own and separate "thing" and that is not how the eye sees a subject in an environment. It'll focus on one area, while blurring the peripheral areas. The artist can choose what is focal and what is peripheral, and direct the viewers' eyes by how they treat areas of their composition.


06-27-2009, 03:32 PM

06-28-2009, 10:01 AM
Thank you Jocelyn for all your time and very helpful information! Despite your disappointment, the teaching here is excellent and i appreciate it very much. PS = I would be so happy if I painted that portrait!