Young Asian Girl – A Quick Portrait Study in Oil – Step by Step

I had painted this lovely young woman during an open session at Patris’ Studio and Gallery in Oak Park, Sacramento about a year ago. Fortunately I had taken a picture of her at the same time. During yet another rainy day – we are drenched and flooding is happening all over the area after a five year drought! – I found the photo and did a quick sketch on an 8×10 oil primed linen panel.

Step One: I started with a drawing directly on the panel using a small bristle filbert and a mix of transparent oxide red and yellow ochre, both Rembrandt oils. I established the size and location of the head on the panel first, then followed with ‘mapping’ the general location of the facial features.
Step two: I don’t like the lower portion of the face. If he relationships of the features, one to another. is wrong at this early stage, it will be impossible to get a likeness without a lot of repainting and ‘fixing’ later on. Using a paper towel, I gently wipe the wet paint.  I don’t want to wipe it entirely off…which I could do.  But this time, I wipe and “paint” at the same time with the towel as my brush.  That gets rid of most of the sketch in the jaw area as well as the lip line.  In addtion the smeared color begins to model the form of the head by loosely establishing where the midtones and darks will be. This in turn helps me see where specific shapes and features should be with more accuracy.


Step 3: The wider shape of the fact is much clearer to me now. I re-establish the jaw line and the proper placement of the lips in relation to the chin is more obvious. The very first darks are located.


Step 4: There are not many darks in the face…it will be mostly halftone shades. The very dark, nearly black hair will frame it.


Step 5: The halftones are added, working from darkest toward lightest. At this point the white of the canvas represents the lightest tones of the skin. A dark background seems the best choice. I use a color of the same value as the hair, but a different overall hue. The final steps happen so quickly that I forgot to take photos, but they were done in approximately this order. The eyes are drawn in with a soft pointed synthetic brush. (I also realize that I have allowed the eyes to ‘drift’ upward a little. It’s relatively easy to re-drawn and lower them slightly at this time.) Using the same brush, the pupils are drawn with almost pure black. A small bit of color is added to lower pupil area. A few highlights are added. The lightest lights are painted into the area of the cheek bones and on the bridge of the nose. Some of the darker areas are restated and transitional halftones leading from darker to lighter are added to smooth the surface of the skin and to enhance the overall modeling of the head.
The final study: This small study is done. There are corrections and additions that could be made, but the goal of painting the head without overworking it has been accomplished. (Actually I could have…and maybe should have…stopped a little sooner.  I heard a painter once say that the hardest lesson to learn was to stop 15 minutes before the painting was done.  I couldn’t agree more…and yet it is great advice. And it is hard to learn, indeed.   But even so, the likeness is pretty good, the modeling of the face is OK…and there are many lessons learned. That’s the hoped for outcome of a quick study on a rainy afternoon. I’m happy.  Total time was less than two hours.



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