Focus On These 3 Things

If you want to paint realistic faces, work on these three things:

  1. Paint The Proper Proportions
  2. Paint The Correct Values
  3. Use Realistic Paint Colors

For a period of time, I felt my paintings looked cartoonish. I wanted to paint realistic faces. I couldn't identify what I was doing wrong.

I asked professors and other artists. Many suggested I simply "embrace my style". I didn't want a lack of skill to be my style.

It took a ridiculously long time to discover what I was doing wrong. Then I began to work on these three things.

Get Proper Proportions:

If you want your portraits to look more real, you must capture the correct proportions of the face and body. You can lose a person's likeness by placing a feature just a little too high, a little too low or by making it the wrong size.

Focus on improving your proportions. Try to match the exact angles you see on your subject.

Check and double-check all your measurements.

Get Correct Values:

Get the correct values if you want to paint realistic faces. It's easy to push lights too light and darks too dark when painting.

This wide range of contrast can create a cartoonish or illustration like effect in our work. If you want your portrait painting to look more real, slow down and try to match your lights and darks to the exact value you see on your subject.

Step back and analyze your model or source. Where are the lightest lights? Where are the darkest darks?

This is easier said than done. If you can add your lightest lights and your darkest darks, you know the rest of the painting should fall somewhere between in value.

If working from a photograph, you can mix your paint and touch a dot of paint to your source photo. If your paint mix is too light or dark, adjust until it matches the exact value of your source.

Taking a quick photo of your painting can help you check your values. Analyze the photo and note the areas which seem to draw too much attention.

Look for areas which look harsh, especially within the face. Adjust your values to create a subtlety which matches that of your subject.

Use Realistic Color:

Use realistic color if you want your portrait to look realistic. It's easy to mix a skin tone that seems good on our palette, yet produces an unnatural effect in our painting.

Step back and analyze your painting. Are you painting orange people?

If so, pull a complementary paint color into your mix to neutralize the color, gray it out a bit. Adjust your palette whenever necessary and aim to mix natural skin tones.

Develop an eye for color temperature when mixing paint color. If an area seems to be cooler in color temp, consider adding a touch of blue or purple to your paint mix.

If an area seems warm or is lit by sunlight, consider adding a touch of yellow to your mix.

Naples yellow is often a great choice. When developing your skill to get realistic color, welcome feedback from others.

If you want really honest and brutal feedback, ask children what they think. They're likely to tell you.

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones

Photos of artist Sonia Reeder-Jones

Work on these 3 things if you want to paint realistic faces in oil:

Realistic color