Here Are 3 Art Skills You'll Need

Learn To Paint Realistic

If you want to paint realistic you need to nail these 3 things.

  1. Believable Proportions
  2. Subtle Values
  3. Natural Color


Realistic art is believable. It looks real. Photorealism looks like a photo. Hyperrealism is extremely detailed and highly refined.

Because our eyes are incredibly good at noticing patterns and irregularities, proportions have to be pretty accurate in order to be believable.

If you draw or paint your subject too tall, too wide, it won't look realistic. You have to match the proportions to what you see.

Especially true when painting or drawing portraits, any exaggeration of the facial proportions can make your work look illustrated instead of realistic.

If you want to draw or paint realistic art, the first skill you need to master is proportions.

Use every tool at your disposal to train your eyes to see proportions. Give yourself immediate feedback by checking your proportions as you draw.

If you're drawing or painting from photographs, be sure to keep your camera lens a fair distance away from your subject when taking your source photos.

It's better to use the zoom function of your camera to enlarge the image. When your camera lens is too close to the subject, it can cause lens distortion.

The proportions within your source photo can be distorted by your camera lens. This is how you end up with a hand that appears way larger than it should. It's because the hand was too close to the camera lens.


Values in nature are subtle. If you make your lights too light or your darks too dark, your work can look more like a cartoon.

In order to make your drawing or painting look realistic, you need to make subtle value changes. Train your eyes to see the values as they really are.

Your brain likes to accomplish things fast so it may lead you to believe that half of the face is dark. Closer observation will show you that some shadow shapes have soft edges, others have hard edges.

You'll often find darker shadow shapes within a shadow shape. Changes in value are often subtle. Look longer to see them as they are.


Colors in nature are subdued. You will seldom match the natural color of an object with a paint color straight from the tube. It will require mixing paint and subtle adjustments of color as you move across the form.

When you paint grass, for example, you will likely have to mix a touch of red into your green paint to knock down the saturation. Mixing your paint colors to a natural tone will make your work more realistic.

If your colors are very bright or overly saturated, your work can look a bit cartoonish. This is fine of course if this is what you desire.

If your work isn't looking as real as you'd like, be sure to mix natural colors. Try to match your paint colors to the actual color that your eye sees.


I believe that if you want to paint realistic, you have to nail these 3 things.

As a painter, I wanted my work to look real. There was something I didn't like about my work.

The only way I could put it into words was to say it didn't look real. I asked professors and other artists, but none could pinpoint the cause. Many suggested I accept that the look was "my style".

I knew in my heart that it wasn't a style, it was a lack of skill. After much searching, I found what I was looking for. It turns out that the recipe to make realistic art requires 3 ingredients.

You must achieve these three things if you want your work to look real. You must be able to get the proportions to a believable level.

Values changes in nature are often subtle. You must make your values subtle. Watch the contrast between the lights and the darks. If you take things too dark or too light, your work can look like an illustration.

Colors in nature are often less saturated than paint colors straight from the tube. Learn to mix paint colors to make them natural and believable.

If you'll build these 3 skills, I believe you can make realistic-looking art.

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones