I have to confess I have never painted a portrait… just seemed too difficult and therefore scary to attempt. So, to get over this fear, and hopefully pic up the skills required to get commissions, I embarked on a weekends Portrait Painting with Oils workshop with the extremely talented artist Mike Skidmore, based in Ross-on-Wye.

The initial sketch was created from a photograph supplied and we were shown how to create a grid using key points as reference, such as the centre of eyes, edge of ears, depth of nose and width of mouth. I haven’t used this system before so was a bit sceptical, but bloody hell it works. Really important stage in getting the features in correct proportions, so important in capturing a likeness.

On top of this was created an underpainting in acrylic. Oils could be used at this stage but acrylics are so much faster. The aim of the underpainting is to first seal the pencil work with an overall thin wash of colour, then, using only monotone,  study the subject to define the main blocks of shadow and highlight. Building up structure in this way is the same as creating many studies before starting a work, but achieving the same aim (working out the subjects features and character) on the canvas. This stage can be likened to creating a sculpture where one starts by defining the rough shape, facets and angles before applying any detail.

The oil painting then uses paint very tentatively to build up the structure in colour, textures and detail in many layers. The underpainting can still be seen in the initial stages of this process but as layers build up the painting develops, and the portrait starts to come to life. Interestingly Mike follows the same process as I do with my wildlife work and leaves the eye till last. Putting this in too soon finishes the painting where other parts are still incomplete! Finally the painting can be colour and tone corrected once touch dry by glazing and scumbling.

I didn’t get to complete the painting but was chuffed at how much I did achieve in just two days… I am usually a slow painter, unable to work more than an hour or two at a time, so now hope I will be quicker with future work.

Brilliant course, would thoroughly recommend and is definitely suitable for all levels of skill… Mike makes sure everyone goes away with a sense of achievement.

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