My First Portrait Commission

I recently finished up my first portrait commission in oils and really loved the project. This is Chris, an avid bird watcher, painted on an A3 wooden panel, commissioned by his partner Mary. I was really touched that she commissioned me for this after having only seen the rose painting I’d done a few weeks earlier. 

I learned a lot from painting this piece, and the main lesson was that I really needed to get my colours and values blocked in as accurately as possible before I started adding anything like details. I’m more of a natural draughtsman than a painter, so its hard to shake myself out of thinking of lines and details when I really need to be thinking in terms of blobs of colour, but I think I got there in the end. It just meant that I had to go back and continuously adjust the colours and values, and sometimes paint over hours of detail work that I’d added prematurely.

So this was day one, the block in phase:


Strangely I think I have a bit of a fear of going too dark early on, which I might be carrying over unconsciously from tattooing unnecessarily, since I can always paint over it unlike when tattooing. But this stage is largely about just getting the basic drawing down and covering the panel in paint. 

This is from day 2 and is the one that really tickles me. Those crazy eyes just make him look like he’s eaten some mushrooms along the way and is on a quest to spot some mythical bird. Here you can also see I’m going crazy on his eye wrinkles before I’ve gotten his skin tones right. 

Here in the next session I’ve done another layer on the bird and the leaves in the foreground, and also done some scumbling with a light green behind and over the leaves in the background to knock it back a bit and add some levels of depth between the leaves themselves so that he doesn’t just look like he’s stood in from of a flat piece of wallpaper. I’ve also darkened and varied his skin tones more. 

The following session was largely about tackling his hair and beard and eyebrows. I was really struggling with beard, until realising that while dry brushing and scumbling worked to add texture to the skin and foliage, hair really needs to be painted wet on wet, to give the sense of silky strands, and to help you get the fine edges and lines. Adding some tiny details like the white hairs in his eyebrows really helped to bring him to life and into focus. At this point he was just about there, and I asked Mary for her feedback. She said she loved it but that I might have gone a bit overboard with the wrinkles, and I agreed. They were just so much fun to paint!

Finally, I softened his eye wrinkles a little, and also darkened a few of the highlights on his face that were just a little too close to pure white, and had the effect of flattening his face a little, since it can’t all be that bright. And with that, I was done! I think the part of this piece I’m most proud of is the quality of skin tones that was created through building up several layers of paint and lots of fine brush strokes. I’ve started taking more oil painting commissions, so if you have any ideas for me, then please get in touch.  Many thanks to Mary and Chris for this great opportunity!

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