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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > March 19 > Portraits with character

Portraits with character

Kathy Barker advises on how to bring a sitter to life by focusing on shapes and values rather than detail when working in oils

A portrait painting is a unique image of the subject. When you set out to do a portrait you have to have some sort of a method. Mostly the process is about the fall of light, the tonal structure, which serves as the foundation on which you expand and develop your own interpretation and artistic handling. At the very least you hope to achieve a likeness; at best also to portray a sense of the character that sits before you.

Materials for the job

The canvas size for a life-size headand- shoulder can be a 193⁄4153⁄4in (5040cm); I generally go for 233⁄4193⁄4in (6050cm) canvas. Primed linen is the best. I use an earth palette of Old Holland or Michael Harding oils: titanium white (you can use a warm white alternative), yellow ochre, light red, Chinese red (or cadmium red light for a much cheaper alternative), Venetian red and ivory black. A tip to remember is to keep Venetian red colour mixes to shadow sides and light red colour mixes to the light or bright side of the face. The cadmium red can go anywhere in the light or dark values. Useful optional extra colours are raw umber, burnt umber, raw ochre.

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About The Artist

Take your drawing and painting to the next level with inspiration, guidance and advice from this month's top contributing artists and tutors. Cover artist, David Parfitt, shares how it's possible to work through a non-productive period to paint your best painting yet. Haidee-Jo Summers invites you to paint everyday, unarranged objects to discover more about design and composition. We also include demonstrations showing how to apply the one-stroke watercolour method, use a variety of techniques to enliven your watercolours, paint silver objects and reflections in acrylics, achieve the texture of rocky landscapes in pastels, use photographs as a memory aid, bring a portrait to life in oils, capture animals' expressions, and much more. Whatever your subject matter or preferred medium, there's something for everyone, and when you've created your best work, enter our 2019 open competition for a chance to see your work exhibited, published in The Artist, and win one of 40 prizes worth over £17,000!