Portrait Painting in Acrylic

This is a comprehensive portrait painting demo showing acrylic painting techniques. Explained are how to capture the structure and personality of the face, how to layer and build up colors through opaque and transparent glazes.

Brush techniques are shown to achieve a diversity of strokes and direction. Demo by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Video Walkthrough

  • Don’t concern yourself with making your painting an exact replica of the reference photo.
  • In fact, the painting will have more expression if you are more willing to shift the colors according to your goals for the painting.
  • Burnt Sienna can be an effective underpainting, especially for portraits because it has a lot of yellow in it.
  • Getting rid of the white of the canvas with a light wash of Burnt Sienna can help build up the foundation of the portrait.
  • When painting the initial sketch of the portrait, it’s important to establish the head, neck, shoulders, hair and ear.
  • Starting with the eyes, nose and mouth for a portrait doesn’t establish the structure of the head, as none of those facial features have any of the bony landmarks on the skull.
  • Often people overlook how critical the neck is to painting an effective portrait, it is the structure the head sits upon.
  • In the beginning part of the painting, it’s very helpful to start with large brushes, like a 10 or 12.
  • Painting with a large brush might feel awkward, but small brushes tend to make people too detail oriented too soon in the process.
  • Stay with the large brushes as long as you can, even when they feel too large for what you’re painting.
  • Painting with a palette knife is a great way to stay loose and slap on large areas of opaque colors.
  • The initial layers of the painting are largely opaque, so that a foundation of paint is present which enables you to add glazes of transparent paint later.
  • Consider mixing mixtures that are on your palette, you can get colors that are more nuanced than mixing only colors that are straight out of the tube.
  • Think about your brush as a plane constructing tool, articulating the larges planes on the face first.

Acrylic Colors

  • Titanium white
  • Alizarin crimson
  • Cadmium red
  • Cadmium lemon
  • Yellow ochre
  • Cerulean blue
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Burnt umber
  • Burn Sienna
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Reference Photo

Female Face: Linda #89
Portraits collection