Portrait Curriculum 2

This video is an overview of the skills that are helpful in creating portraits. Knowledge like the anatomical structure of the head, formal elements like light and shadow, how to mix flesh tones, and more are explained as being fundamental to creating artwork with portraits.

Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artists Alex Rowe and Lauryn Welch.

Video Walkthrough

  • The “typical” portrait tends to be head, neck, and shoulders.
  • Backgrounds are often the last thing on people’s minds when doing a portrait.
  • Backgrounds aren’t inherently a distraction in a portrait, in fact, they can enhance a portrait!
  • Backgrounds are important in terms of establishing narratives in a portrait.
  • People often think there are very few options for composition in a portrait but that’s not true!
  • Backgrounds and the composition can really contribute to having a mood in a portrait.
  • Learning really simple basics of the anatomy of the head is super helpful for a portrait.
  • Often people think a portrait is only eyes, nose, and mouth, but actually the skull structure is much more important.
  • The jaw bone, cheek bone, and the eye sockets are the most essential structures.
  • The eye socket is chronically ignored because people think the pupils are the most important.
  • The eye sockets are a lot more dramatic than you think.
  • Standard angles of the face are the profile view, the front view, and a 3/4 view.
  • The front view can actually be tougher because it’s perfectly symmetrical.
  • Profiles can be very elegant, but they are also more flat in general.
  • 3/4 view can be easier as it tends to be the most dimensional.
  • Foreshortening in the head can be very confusing, it looks wonky no matter what you do!
  • With a foreshortened head, let it look weird, don’t try to “correct” it.
  • Hair is often one of the last things added to a portrait, but it’s very important in terms of the identity of the person and the silhouette of their head.
  • Develop the hair alongside the face, don’t throw it in last minute.
  • What’s challenging about mixing flesh tones is that skin is translucent and the color can be complex.
  • The way flesh tone appears has a lot to do with lighting as well.
  • Ultimately the best way to approach any type of skin tone is to train your eye to search for more unusual colors.
  • Clothing is very challenging, there’s a huge range of textures, fabric types, patterns, and more.
  • Look for areas of tension in the clothing, vs. areas that are more fluid.

Full Curriculum

Overview · Portrait 1 · Portrait 2


Artists Mentioned

  • Jerrell Gibbs
  • Jacob Lawrence
  • Doron Langberg
  • Kehinde Wiley
  • Albrecht Dürer
  • Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier
  • Njideka Akunyili Crosby
  • Alex Katz
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Kerry James Marshall
  • John Singer Sargent
  • Lucian Freud
  • Amy Sherald
  • Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
  • Michelangelo
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini

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