How to make portrait paintings from photographs

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How to make portrait paintings from photographs



It is no brainer that a conventional portrait painting requires a model. Live portrait drawings are far too tricky because you need to understand the subtle details immediately before their angles slightly change.


Especially when it comes to the portraits of kids, drawing live is a pickle. Most of the time pausing a smile, and keeping muscle strength for a pose for hours is impossible.


This is why many artists tend to use a reference picture in order to produce a quality portrait. So, what makes a good portrait painting that is based on a photograph?


Follow these tips to get started on how to paint a portrait from photos and you’ll never ask that question again.


  1. Choosing the correct picture


Choosing the correct reference picture to begin portrait painting from photography is as crucial as your end result.


If you choose a poor quality photograph, your eyes won’t recognize the small details that should be drawn. So, find a quality photograph and zoom in a little to scrutinize if you can work with it. If you feel like you can’t make out some parts of the picture because it’s blurry, don’t use it.


Say you’re working with a black and white photograph and it’s not up to par with the details. As a quick solution, you can increase its shadows. This will expose the photograph’s true details.

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Free-Photos / Pixabay


  1. Look at the big picture


Over Focusing on the details is the first mistake that most beginner artists make. Regardless of how talented you are, this can throw you off track. Instead, gaze at your reference picture a while, then draw the most important lines. For instance, look at the distance from the person’s nose to ears, nose to mouth, how big the forehead is, etc. and draw the outlines of the face.

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It’s all about the bigger picture. If you lose yourself in the details at this stage, your portrait paintings from photographs won’t be proportionate. Even if you lack resemblance, if you have good proportions, you can learn to get the likeness step by step.

Basically, what makes a good portrait painting is better proportions.


  1. Don’t jump to coloring


Don’t start coloring unless you’re 100% certain. The reason is, once you start coloring, even if you spot a mistake in your line drawing, you won’t have the energy to correct it.

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If you’re a digital artist, then you have some wiggle room because you can always go back and change your base drawing. However, for traditional artists who use a tangible canvas, this will be a real pain.

So, the best option is to make sure your drawing is proportionate before you plunge into coloring. Here are some tips you can follow to avoid conspicuous errors in your drawing.


  • If you’re a digital artist, flip the drawing horizontally or vertically. This way your eye will catch any anomalies in the portrait. If you’re drawing on paper, flip it, or turn it upside down to notice any weird spots.


  • Put your drawing a couple of feet away from you. Then look at it and see whether it’s still gorgeous and proportionate from far.


  1. Wait


After creating your line drawing, keep it away, and look at the drawing the next day with a fresh mind. This way you’ll pinpoint the errors that you couldn’t detect before. When learning how to paint a portrait from photos, this is an important step that newbies tend to forget.

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bridgesward / Pixabay

This method works for your final drawing as well. Drawing, painting, sketching, all of these are a process that takes mental focus and accuracy. Taking a pause and resuming your work doesn’t hurt but improve your end product.


  1. Start with basic colors


Relax your mind and only think about the base colors. For instance, if you’re a digital artist, pick the most prominent overall color of the person’s skin with the color picker and paint the base with that color.

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The same goes for traditional artists, although you should find the most suitable color yourself. However, it’s always wise to start with the lightest colors for a convenient blend.


Then pick the main shadow and the main highlight color.


Place the colors on the drawing according to the reference picture. Now you should have a clear map of where you’re headed. After placing these base colors you can start blending them.


Portrait painting styles, techniques, Blending can be different from artist to artist, but the key is infusing your art style into your painting.


  1. Adding more details


Apart from the line drawing, the other factor that can build resemblance in a portrait is the tiniest details added by the highlights and shadows.


As mentioned in the previous step, after blending your colors, go back to your reference photo. Then pick up any minor details that you may have forgotten to add.


Then you can place them using appropriate colors.

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ulleo / Pixabay

If you need to add more details to areas like hair, you can look for a tutorial that goes deep into detailing hair. Or, you can place highlights and shadows on top of the base color to achieve an overall faux detailed look.


  1. Fine-tuning


When we focus on our drawings, our eyes tend to get used to them. This makes us overlook some of the most noticeable errors.


One way to ensure you’ve got the perfect resemblance is, showing your drawing to someone else who’s familiar with the face you’ve drawn. However, don’t show them your reference picture.

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duongtoan / Pixabay

If they recognize the person right off the bat, it’s a good sign.


If your audience points out important errors you can analyze those and improve your painting. It is ideal if you choose not to put too many details on the background since it steals the focus from the main subject.




Wrapping Up


Contrary to popular belief the artists shouldn’t think of themselves as inferior because of using reference pictures.


Every artist’s portrait painting styles and techniques are different. However, following the correct steps can prevent regret, supply, and time wastage.


The more you draw from reference pictures the more you’ll get a better hang of it. Check some portrait painting ideas for beginners online while you’re at it. With time, you’ll certainly get there!



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