I have been painting portraits for quite a few years now and more often than not when I tell people I'm a portrait artist the response is, "Painting people is so difficult!". While it can be challenging, I have a couple tips I've learned that will give you a good foundation to improve your portrait painting skills! No fancy art school required!
1. Use a grid to do your initial sketch
This is a trick I learned back in high school art class and is one of the best basic tools at your disposal! Draw a grid on your reference photo and your canvas/paper/etc so that when you do your initial sketch you have a better idea of where everything goes. There will inevitably be some variances between the reference and the painting, but the grid makes sure the important things like proportions and anatomy are correct. I will include an example of my favorite type of grid to use for this purpose below! There was a period where I said "forget the grid! I'm just going for it!". I ended up making quite a few mistakes, and a spend a lot of time fixing errors later in the painting; so it’s worth the extra prep time!
Photo with grid Finished Painting with grid
2. Try a Self Portrait
I firmly believe that there is no better way to learn how to paint faces than painting your own! This is because you have an idea of what your face looks like, but when you paint a self-portrait you really have to challenge yourself to paint from sight, not memory. Plus, it’s a relaxed, no pressure way to build your skills! Experiment with your self-portraits, try to paint some expressions, incorporate some bright colors! Really have fun with it, you will be amazed what you learn!
3. Start Small
It’s tempting to buy a big canvas and dive head first into the painting, but a large canvas can be overwhelming especially when you are learning! Small 8”x10” canvases are my favorite way to experiment and improve my skills. Don’t have canvases? No problem! I started out painting on carboard and wood I was able to find around my house! As you get more comfortable, start scaling your painting sizes up and soon enough you will be working on that huge dreamy canvas.
4. Learn from Others
Watching other artists work is a great way to learn how to paint, everyone has their own style so it’s an amazing learning experience to just observe. You can find painting demo videos on YouTube or find a live artist demo in your area. Watch their process, the way they do their sketches, how they use color, etc.
On that note, I'd love to do some painting demo videos and post them on here! What do you have the most trouble with? The initial sketch? How to paint skin tones? Send me an email or Instagram message, I'd love to share the tips I have learned over the years!