Without a doubt, the most demanding form of painting is that involving the capturing of the likeness of an individual on canvas. Fortunately, no one told me that when I was about thirteen years old else I might not be a portrait painter today. It was about then I started playing around with faces and after some 40 years, it still goes on today. My first portrait was a self-portrait. (Ego? What ego?) I took a wallet-size school picture, drew a ruler line down through the center of the face and another across the eyes. (I'd vaguely remembered seeing this done somewhere in a book.) Then I drew an identical cross four times larger on a piece of ordinary posterboard. This done, I took to measuring in fractions of inches each detail that fell along these two crossing lines, multiplying them times four, and redrawing them on the larger cross-hairs. Fortunately, I got a good likeness using this method the very first time. The resulting drawing I painted in oils (yes, they bled all over the posterboard). Then I moved on to a portrait of President Eisenhower, added a background to cover up the bleeding oil, and I was off and running.

One of the most distinctive things about an artist's portraits is the way he handles fleshtones. My first fleshtones consisted of white, burnt siena, and burnt umber. So long as I kept the burnt sienna between the white and the burnt umber, the results were adequate for a beginner though the effects are quite limited. I used this combination until I was in college and was practically FORCED by an instructor to use something other than earth tones. Then I settled on white, yellow ochre, cadmium red light, and ceruleun blue, a combination I still use today with occassional variations. I've seen portrait artist use veridian with alizarine, dioxine purple with yellows, pthalo blue with oranges, etc. There are practically an infinite number of combinations and probably the best combination is to use NO single formula at all. However basicaly, the three primary colors, mixed in variying amounts, create various shades of brown, which, when used with white highlights, create fleshtones. Likewise, a primary and it's complement (across the color wheel) will work too, along with white of course.

My suggestion for artists wanting to wet their feet in portrait paint is: DON'T. No, not because we portrait painters don't need the competition. It's just that there is too much to learn about portraits to tackle them in paint right off the bat. Learn to draw them in ordinary pencil first. Sketch them out from good photos with a #3 pencil then go over them again with a softer pencil (Like an Eberhardt Ebony). The one thing you don't ever want to have to do in painting a portrait is to struggle with the drawing. After you've mastered the black and white pencil portrait move on to colored pencil. Dry color media is MUCH more forgiving than paint and as a beginner you'll need all the forgiveness you can get. Colored pencil has the advantage of mixing in layers much the same way as paint but is up to 50% eraseable with NO drying time (a lot cheaper too).