Australian Fine Artist

Portrait Painting-5

Last of Five All Day Workshops with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima Today’s model a young female sitter. She had brown hair with medium complexion. We were therefore, calling on our recipes for lighter toned skin and brown to blonde hair although some of the recipes for Mediterranean skin tones would have worked as well.

Today’s main focus however, was lighting. As artists who have painted portraits for a while already know, setting up the lighting for a portrait is of great importance. Where the light is coming from, whether it is a cool or warm light and how strong it is are all important.There are three main methods of lighting a sitter for a portrait painting if you are coming from a more academic method of painting.

  1. Back lighting
  2. Side lighting
  3. 45° offset (or Rembrandt method) lighting

No matter which one you decide to use, the lighting should always follow the curve or line of the general shape of the sitter. In other words, it should complement their facial structure and their age.

An older sitter may look more interesting with top lighting which show up the character lines on the face. As we age our lifestyle, our personality etc tends to come out in our faces, some of the most beautiful and interesting portraits are of older sitters who have fascinating faces lit up this way.

A younger person or child however, may look better lit from the side or from a slightly upward angle as they have less defined features.

Here are some artists that have painted memorable and technically brilliant portraits that are worth referencing:

  • Vermeer. His paintings with light coming through windows on a side angle are stunning and show up the depth in the paintings as well as giving the portraits so much life.
  • Renoir. Look at the skin tones in dappled light in his out-door paintings.
  • Rembrandt. Look at the glazing techniques and how he softened the corners of the eyes, nose and mouth in his work as well and the side and top lighting in many.
  • Singer Sargent. His lighting techniques gave his paintings depth so much so that you feel like you can walk into them. He is recognised by many as a master of lighting and tonalism.

Another thing to remember is to use your colours. This may sound strange or redundant but many people are taught not to use certain colours when painting. This only restricts your education as a painter. How will you develop a palette of your own if you don’t experiment with all your colours. So whilst painting any subject, including portraits, mix your colours and see what works for you. You will soon find that you favour some colours and mixes over others, and this will lead you the development of your own look.

So think about things like, how do I darken a colour to make it look like it is in shadow? It isn’t just a matter of selecting another darker colour. Think about adding a complimentary colour for example, to knock back a colour and darken it. How you do this will also help you to learn about colour and develop your palette.

Finally, the thing that we have been reminded of for each workshop with portraits. Remember your planes. Once you have a good idea of the structure of the body, simplify it down to planes. Less is more. Having a simple idea of planes in your head will reduce the brush strokes and help to develop a cleaner and more striking painting rather than an overworked copy of a photo or reality. If you are concerned about how to start, go back to cutting up and apple, like you are peeling it to eat. All those flat areas on the apple are your planes. Use a nice sized knife so you don’t cut around the apple too much, and the result will be some nice sized planes to draw or paint from. Once you get this working you will be able to apply the same method to any other subject.

David ‘s Tips:

  • To push my colours in regard to shadows and highlights.
  • Soften areas that are not in the focal point so that the eye is drawn back to where I want it.

Below is the finished painting from this workshop. It has a some marks from David on it, but is 85% mine.


If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him though his website at: Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: