Blog / 2012 / How I Paint My Portraits

April 19, 2012

The making of my portraits starts long before I put brush to canvas. It begins with a photo-session. I work from photos I take myself of my subjects during the course of a conversation, and this interview has a few important benefits:

  • By asking my sitters lots of questions, I’m distracting them and hopefully getting them to forget that I have a camera pointed at their face.
  • At the same time, I’m encouraging them to talk about themselves so that they will look engaged—an engaged face is an engaging one.
  • Finally, I’m trying to gather information about how the subject sees themselves so that I may include that in the work. Do they see themselves as exuberant or reserved for example? Because that’s the sort of thing that will shape the painting I make.

During the course of our conversation, I take upwards of 300 photos of each of my subjects. I work at taking the best photos possible since they help make the painting part of the process easier.

From the several hundred images I take home with me, I choose one primary source photo to work from. That photo has to have the right structure—attitude of the neck and shoulders as well as general expression on the face—but not necessarily the right feel since I can adjust the feel of the image as I paint.

Using the grid method and working from the primary source photo, I draw in charcoal directly on the canvas, and then I paint. I work on many paintings at the same time, always alternating between wide swathes of color and smaller brush strokes to pick out detail and structure. I like to think of it as making a mess and then cleaning it up, and making a mess again and cleaning it up again, on repeat!

In this video, I talk through each layer of paint I add to build up a rich portrait. This vlog explains how to mix colors for different skin tones. You can commission me to paint your portrait!

acrylic painted portrait of a sweet woman
Gwenn Seemel
Seeing with Your Heart
2011
acrylic on canvas
10 x 10 inches
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