Portrait Painting Demonstration By Karin Wells

About Karin

karin wellsKarin Wells is an artist of amazing versatility. She graduated with honors from both the New England School of Art and Design, Boston, 1965, and the Butera School of Art, Boston, 1986. Karin has enjoyed a career as an award-winning graphic designer, illustrator and sign painter. She also taught Life Drawing and Painting for many years. She has most recently studied for three years at The New England School of Classical Painting in Greenfield, New Hampshire, under the direction of Numael Pulido.

To expand her craft, Karin has traveled throughout Europe studying the Old Masters. Her art reflects the deep influence of these great works. Karin demonstrates a remarkable facility for likeness and for the use of light.

The artist is a member of The American Society of Portrait Artists, Portrait Society of America, The Portrait Society of Atlanta, and The Copley Society of Boston.

To learn more about Karin and to view more of her amazing work, be sure to visit her website and blog by following the links below:

Website: http://www.karinwells.com/

Blog: http://karinwells.blogspot.com/

If you would like to be notified when Karin updates her blog, be sure to click the “Follow” link in the upper left hand corner of her blog.

Portrait Painting Demonstration – “Gwyneth”

Click Images for Larger Views

There are a LOT of ways to paint a portrait. I use several different methods (and sometimes combine them) depending on what I think is best at the time. Sometimes I even remember to take pictures of the process.

Gwyneth Demo 1

This portrait of Gwyneth (20″x24″, oil on linen) won the Certificate of Excellence at the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition in Philadelphia this year (2008).

Here’s how I did it:

Gwyneth Demo 2

This a drawing on Acetate. I use prepared acetate instead of tracing paper because I can see through it. Believe me, it comes in handy later in the painting if my lines begin to “wander” and I need to correct.

I use a “Sharpie” Permanent Marker as it makes a clean line and doesn’t smear.

I use a sheet of graphite paper and a ballpoint pen to transfer the drawing to the canvas. Acrylic paint will cover graphite (pencil). Oil paint will not cover graphite so if I were painting in oil, I’d need to erase my original lines and replace them with a Sharpie line.

Gwyneth Demo 3

I used acrylic paint for my first layer. In order to do this, I needed to use an acrylic primed linen – acrylic paint will not stick to oil primed linen and will not be archival.

I use Golden Matte colors. I try to stick to the dull halftone, neutral earth colors.

For the color “white” I choose a dull warmish neutral – about the value of a brown paper bag. Nothing will be lighter in value than this.

If my subject has light skin, I use the same paint and color for the skintones as my “white.” If my subject has darker skin, I deepen the value accordingly.

Gwyneth Demo 4

I may need to put on more than one layer of paint in order to cover the canvas and make it flat – like a poster. It is a good way to lay down my basic composition and make a definite statement of shape.

Two thin layers are much better than one thick layer. And I try not to leave ridges.

Posterizing is a good way to see if a composition works. This layer could be in oil but acrylics are a faster way to saturate the canvas.

I chose a medium value paint for all the objects and was thinking “halftone” (the space between light and shadow). Once the white of the canvas is covered up – it doesn’t look so dark.

I always establish black and white immediately in an underpainting. It will help all the other mid-range values fall into place.

Gwyneth Demonstration Part 2 >>

Karin Wells Signature Grab a cup of virtual coffee and stop by my Painting Studio to see what’s happening. Also come visit my Portrait & Landscape Galleries.


  1. Angie says

    Wow! What a great tutorial!! I’m always amazed by anyone who can do portraits. I’ve never learned them. A tree can be crooked, water can shift, but a portrait must be exact!! That is a great portrait!! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lynn Marlowe says

    I love the colors and the painting. Thank you for the tutorial. It is very helpful to a newcomer artist as myself.

  3. Petra says

    Can somebody help my find a artist, who can do beautiful black pencil portrait? I have one of my family from Prague and I need somebody here to paint my fionce family, because we would like to hang them next to each other. Thank you

  4. Gloria J. Heard says

    Thank you for the wonderful student tutorial for painting portraits.
    I am a retired(25+yrs) professional career photographer in the medical/educational field. My personal artistic interests have been in sculpting(busts), songbird woodcarvings, computer scanning flowers, and recently photographing clouds and frogs. I recently lost my brother’s wife(2010), she was like a sister to me, and I lost my brother a year ago(2009). I have a great photograph of the two of them together and I want to paint a portrait and give it to their family. I believe your technique sharing will help me in this long time interest of mine. Although I love photography, I have always wanted to paint and plan to do so at this phase of my life-79 years of age. Sincerely Gloria

  5. Cristy says

    I’m always amazed by anyone who can do portraits. who can do beautiful black pencil portrait? I have one of my family from Prague and I need somebody here to paint.

  6. Elize Spies says

    Thank you Karin this help me. I want to paint my grand child of 3 years, but struggle with colours everytime, then have to start a new canvas. I am trying you advice.
    Elize Spies
    Bloubergstrand Cape Town South Africa

  7. amelia says

    First of all congrats n for the award! Really you rock it! ’m fascinated! You are so talented. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I love the way you explain things mentioning each and every point to be remembered. I have never tried a portrait before, or the heat set paints, but now that the holiday rush is over I’m thinking of giving both an attempt. Congrats for the fabulous work!

  8. Kevin says

    Wow, that is a breathtaking painting. No wonder you won the award. And that is a great step by step explanation on how you did that painting. I can certainly use these tips.

  9. says

    Most artists will agree, however, that the most crucial part of painting a face is to capture the shape and look of the eyes, as well as the overall symmetry of the features. Flick your eyes back and forth between the painting and its subject. The most accurate portraits will not have notable differences of shape or color between the subject and what has been painted.

  10. Alex says

    I have dabbled with painting when I was in high school. My siblings and I took up painting lessons during summer, and since then, I’ve found painting to be such a relaxing activity for me. It’s when I can zone out from all of life’s goings on, even for just a while. I have always, however, found it difficult to paint hands. They always look much too large. Oh well. Practice, practice, practice!

  11. Vimal Kumar says

    Thanks for sharing this incredible materials.Now i can also thinks to do like that ……

  12. Linda Anderson says

    I love your work. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and techniques. I did have a question, you said you used a sharpie for the drawing, did you mean on the canvas itself? I may have misunderstood what you were saying.

  13. Anonymous says

    I love your website..!
    We share the same passion and that is portrait painting..
    Hope you like mine too..


  14. Mudan says

    I really like you style of painting. Your tutorials give me information I have not been able to find in any book.
    How about going into some closer details like eyes, nose and mouth and hands. There are some skills in painting eyes which I fail to comprehend.

    Secondly, you use oil paints. But this paint has its problems for those who do not have a lot of time to paint and do not have a studio. Do you ever paint with water based oil?

  15. says

    Your method speaks to my heart. I have bought various books regarding the style of the Old Masters, but you make it so accessible. I would love to follow you and your tutorials! Blessings!

  16. Samira says

    Ms Wells
    I am not a painter, but I really love all your paints. When I’m sad I like to see some of your portraits and I feel better.
    You are a real artist and have the ability to change sadness in hapinesss. Thank you.

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