Enjoy this free step by step acrylic portrait painting tutorial from artist Christopher Vasil!
Using A Limited Palette and A Four Value Underpainting
A quick acrylic portrait painting tutorial showing a relatively painless approach to portraits using a limited palette and a four value underpainting.
For the reference I used a free picture from the Reference Image Library of Wetcanvas:
I started with a detailed line drawing and then painted a 4 value study using only black, a dark grey, a lighter grey, and white.
To paint your own 4 value study you can either use photoshop to convert your reference to black and white and then posterize your reference down to 4 values (see below.) or you can outline groups of value areas directly on your full color reference and then decide if each outlined group, in terms of value, is more closely related to a black,a dark grey,a light grey, or a white. You can note your decision on your reference then paint those value patterns accordingly (see below.)Here’s the reference photo reduced to 4 values in photoshop:
Here’s the color reference divided into value groups which you can translate into simple grey tones on your underpainting:
I let the 4 value study dry.
Using a limited palette of alrizarin crimson, cad yellow, ultramarine, white, I mixed a generic overall pinkish flesh tone and diluted the paint with water and lightly tinted the entire face, except for the white areas. The key is to paint transparently as if you are tinting a photo. You can dilute your acrylic paint with medium or water. Saturation is automatically controlled by the fact that the paint is diluted and the pigments are dispersed sparsely and the grey underpainting is showing thru and influencing the color. I used the yellow to mix a light color and painted the lights on the sides.
Finally, I mixed and added little saturated areas of local color, mixed with the three primaries. The key is restraint. If the color is too strong, just glaze it with the generic flesh tint you already mixed. Mix a brown with red, yellow, and a little black to strengthen the shadows. Add warm and cool greyed colors where observed. I tinted the hat, shirt, and suspenders with ultramarine and a little cerulean. The whole 5×7 portrait took about 90 minutes. The grey underpainting really helped hold it together. After that first flesh tint is added you can get really reckless with the color and it will still seem believable. This is a fun, consistant, and relatively painless technique for making portraits compared to some of the other less systematic approaches.
About Christopher Vasil
I’m a Delaware based impressionist working in acrylics. I try to make paintings that look precise and at the same time spontaneous. My work has been described as having a “…powerful, primitive, brushstroke laid down in a way that brings gentleness…work [that] can appear powerful and yet gentle at the same time. It is both exciting and relaxing.” Lately I’m experimenting more with concept art, combining representation with abstraction as a means to explore ideas about form and dimension.
Christopher’s Website: www.christophervasil.com