Portrait Painting Course | Sessions College

Portrait Painting

Learn techniques for capturing likenesses in oils

Portraits have a rich history and hold great meaning to viewers by presenting the likeness of a person. Historical, naturalistic representations of subjects, as well as stylized or idealized ones, offer interesting challenges to painters.

With your palette of oils and this hands-on three lesson course, you'll learn how to tackle the challenges of portraiture including utilizing knowledge of anatomy, starting with effective drawings, considering lights and darks, mixing flesh tone paints, and laying on color. You'll also explore portraiture throughout history and strategies for working with live subjects.

You'll build your portraiture skills over three challenging projects, guided throughout by professional portrait artist Palden Hamilton. Helpful critiques on your drawings and paintings will help you improve your techniques and build your style.

Course Instructor(s):

Sessions fine arts and design instructor Jordon Schranz

Jordon Schranz  is a Detroit based audio/visual artist and designer.

Course content developed by Palden Hamilton.
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To take this course you'll need:

  • Computer with Internet connection (56 Kbps modem or faster).
  • Oil paints, canvases, brushes, and other art supplies are described in depth and available at a discount at the beginning of the class. Supplies may vary based on student needs and should be purchased after entering the class.
  • Basic experience in painting and figure drawing.
  • A digital camera (or ability to digitize film photos) to present your artwork digitally.
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The following courses can help you meet the above requirements:

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Course Objectives:

Students learn how to:

  • Work with naturalistic and idealized depictions of the face, and with historical portraiture influences.
  • Set up a portrait sitting including positioning and lighting of the subject.
  • Use proportion, plumb line, and reference techniques to build portrait drawing skills.
  • Create a cast drawing to demonstrate values and volume.
  • Create underpaintings using specific value and volume representation techniques.
  • Represent shadow and reflected light effectively in a portrait.
  • Apply perceived color values and mix flesh tone paint effectively.
  • Lay and handle paint appropriately for proper texture and value.
  • Create attractive finished portraits that avoid common portraiture missteps.
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Course Outline

LESSON 1 Drawing for Portrait Painting

Drawing is the essential first step of portrait painting, capturing the subject's anatomy with accuracy. In the first lesson, you'll learn how to work with basic facial proportions and use important methods like plumb lines and reference points to represent the subject. You'll also learn about the types of portrait representation and the challenges of this art form. For your first exercise, you'll do a right-brain drawing workout and create a drawn portrait of a live subject.

LESSON 2 Value and Underpainting

Before you can create a finished, full color portrait, you need to work with the values (lights and darks) of your subject and create an effective underpainting. This lesson looks at the procedures used in creating cast drawings and raw umber underpaintings, including methods for isolating and defining areas of similar values. You'll explore light theory, learning tips for representing light with paint in a portrait. In the exercise, you'll create an underpainting of your live subject portrait.

LESSON 3 Laying on the Paint

The final step of an oil portrait is filling it with color, especially the flesh tones that take up so much of a portrait and are the most challenging to create. Local and perceived color choices are explored, including a look at the color combinations used by masters of portraiture, and you'll gain tips on mixing just the right flesh tones. You'll learn the best ways to lay your color onto your portrait and some important (and common) missteps to avoid. In the exercise, you'll complete the portrait you've worked on throughout the class and create another from start to finish.

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Portrait by Palden Hamilton
Portrait - Palden Hamilton

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