Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration and Digital Photography
Online Portrait Painting Course course at Sessions College

Online Portrait Painting Course

30 hours

4704: Portrait Painting

Learn professional techniques for painting portraits in oil

Portraiture has a rich history. In this online portrait painting course, you can learn time-honored techniques for portrait painting in oil. Working with an experienced painter, you'll utilize your knowledge of anatomy, learning how to construct a painting from drawing to underpainting to final work. Along the way you'll learn essentials for lights and darks, flesh tones, and laying on color. Helpful critiques on your drawings and paintings will help you improve your techniques and build your style.

Portrait by Palden Hamilton

Course At A Glance

Course Features

  • 100% online
  • Project-based
  • Instructor-led
  • Study at your own pace
  • Complete this course in 3-4 weeks


The course is taught by the following instructor(s):

Course developed by: Palden Hamilton

Take this course as a standalone or as part of the following program(s):

Course Projects

    1. Drawing for Portrait Painting

      Drawing is the essential first step of portrait painting, capturing the subject's anatomy with accuracy. In the first lecture, 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.

    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 week's class 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.

    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.

Sample Student Work

by Helen Roowalla

Course Outcomes

What Are The Course Projects?

Learn a classic, time-tested approach to portraiture as you take a project from initial drawing to underpainting to final portrait.

What Software or Supplies Do I Need?

  • Computer with Internet connection.
  • Oil paints, canvases, brushes, and other art supplies (full list provided in this course.)
  • Basic experience in painting and figure drawing.
  • A digital camera (or ability to digitize film photos) to present your artwork digitally.

What Will I Learn?

Students in this course can expect to learn 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 an underpainting 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.

Getting Started

Course Registration

  • Enroll today, start tomorrow
  • Study at your own pace
  • Complete within 3 months

Course Tuition and Fees 
Registration Fee* $50
Total Course Price $669

Registration fees are nonrefundable after 5 days from enrollment. All tuition includes a digital materials fee for course content.

Click Register Now to enter your information and desired start date. An Admissions Advisor will contact you to arrange payment and provide you with an Enrollment Agreement.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


What Are The Courses Like?

Our courses are project-based. There are no set logins, so you can study at your own pace. In each course you’ll complete a series of lectures and projects designed to stretch your creative skills.

How Much Time Do I Need?

This course can be completed in 30 hours or less. You’ll have three months from enrollment to complete the course studying at your own pace. Extensions are available for those who need more time.

Who Are The Instructors?

Our courses are developed and taught by our faculty of professional artists, designers, and photographers. You’ll learn in-demand skills, get feedback on your work, and build a portfolio of creative work.

Is Sessions College accredited?

Yes. Since 2001, Sessions College has been accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). The Distance Education Accrediting Commission is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a recognized accrediting agency and is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).