Australian Fine Artist

Portrait Painting for Artists

Workshop Number Three of Five 2016

Tutor: David Chen

We began this workshop by looking at the work of Anders Leonard Zorn (1860-1920), a Swedish artist whose use of light reminded me of the work of Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as Whistler and Sargent. He used light to great effect to reveal the form of the body and face, it created drama in his works, and a sense of theatre that, if yo took away the lighting, would leave a rather flat and less interesting painting.

You can find examples of Zorn’s work in the following web site:

Using back light and side lighting on your model for dramatic effect

When you decide to use light in a portrait, one thing to consider is where you are going to place your most detailed information. When painting in an impressionist style rather than unltra-realist, you need to think about if you want to emphasize the shadow areas or the highlighted, or lit areas. Using both may lead to too much information and a confusing painting. So decide in the beginning when you set up your model and the lighting:

  1. Side light
  2. Back light
  3. Top light
  4. Details in the shadow areas
  5. Details in the lit areas

Keep in mind that back lit means that you will get a ‘halo’ of light around the edges of the model, so you need to think about how you are going to use that.

Another thing to think about is whether you want to emphasize the object or the light on it as this will influence concentrating on the local colour or the light or dark areas.

Here are a few simple tips to try out when you are attemping portraits:

  1. Keep the area you are concentrating on simple, don’t try to put too many values in, sometimes 2 or 3 value changes can be enough to create form.
  2. Decide on where you are going to concentrate your efforts for more detail. Dark shaded areas or the light areas. Try not to do both in the one painting.
  3. Strong values will create drama and a more interesting portrait. Think about Rembrandt’s self portraits.
  4. Strong values will direct the viewer’s eye where you want it to go.

Placing Colour (tip)

To keep your colours ‘clean’ when working on a portrait, apply a stroke once, then go back to your palette and pick up your colour again, if necessary, wipe the brush to get rid of any contaminating colour from the canvas. This will help your painting to remain fresh.

Colour Fear (tip)

Some people have fear of using particular colours. there are ones that are very strong, and they stand out when used on their own as looking wrong, overpowering all the other colours around them. Viridian is an example. Instead of shying away from this useful colour, try using it to mix with. Added with Alizarin Crimson, it makes a great dark instead of black. You can also add earth colours to is for great effect. Knocked back with other colours, Viridian is a very useful colour, so try it out with other colours and see what you get. I used is for the shadow areas on and under the chin in my painting. Just a dash added to the skin colour I mixed up was enough to indicate the beard area on the male face.

Below are my efforts for this workshop (preliminary sketch and painting). Our model was an older man from Central America, so I enjoyed the challenge of interpreting his unique facial features. I am very happy with various parts of each, but not the whole of both – yet!  That is where David made suggestions for me to work on until next time. I have since worked over his marks, but there are still areas I could improve. He suggested that I need to keep my style more consistent from top to bottom in my painting as it drifted a bit as I worked my way down the torso.

chen-3 portraits-chen-3

For more advanced classes refer to David’s website details below.

Please note that David does not allow photography in his workshops. Students may photograph their own work at home after the sessions, but any alterations by David should be acknowledged.

David Chen’s workshops are in very high demand and many are booked out in advance, but you can go on to a waiting list as sometimes spaces open up. If you would like to go on the waiting list, you can contact David via his website:

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.


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