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Portrait Painting Tips








"Here is some detail from the portrait of "Troooper Parkinson of the 2nd/14th Light Horse Regiment, Queensland Mounted Infantry".

Accurate portraiture requires a great deal of patience, practice and patience... and practice.

Here's some of the things I've been trying to do in my effort to increase my abilities:

1. Get some good books on anatomy and READ them! Then practice drawing the items described. For example, did you know the 'white' of a person's eyes is called the Sclera? And that it is seldom white, but has a yellow hue with pink highlights.

2. Practice mixing paints to get the skin tones right. Here's a couple of invaluable colours for you:

a. Naples Yellow;
b. Cadmium Yellow Deep;
c. Winsor Red/Crimson Red;
d. Titanium White;
e. Burnt Umber.

3. Have a closer look at skin tones. This subject actually had a real pinkish hue. Others have a more of a yellow/orange hue.







I cannot recommend underpainting enough when painting on canvas. What is underpainting?

Well it's a useful tool for a couple of purposes which are listed below.

1. It takes away the psychological barrier of the blank canvas. Many artists see a stark white canvas and are afraid of starting. It's as though the whiteness causes the fear. SO GET RID OF THE WHITENESS! Use an underpaint to get rid of the white. Once it's gone, it's so much easer to get stuck into the painting!

2. It gives a good prime to the support. An acrylic underpainting with some gesso helps to fill in the valleys between the ridges of the tooth of the canvas. Have a look at the picture at left. Can you see the roughness of the canvas; the little nodules of stitching? Well imagine each raised nodule is a ridge and the space between the ridges are valleys. This roughness is called the 'tooth'. It helps in holding the paint and is one reason why painting on canvas is so popular. By coating the support (the thing that you are about to paint on) with an acrylic gesso, you help to prime the canvas and get it ready to accept oil paint. If you also mix some acrylic paint with the gesso and make it coloured, thus creating the underpaint colour... sort of like an undercoat. By using gesso, you also reduce the roughness. The gesso fills the valleys if you don't want that 'canvas' look to the painting which many like. Have a look at the pictures at left and you'll see what I mean.

3. An underpainting helps make colours appear different on the canvas. This is due to optical mixing. If your paint layers are thin, then the paint only holds onto the ridges of the tooth and the valleys (and the colour of the underpaint) will shine through. If you have a look at any book on colour theory, you'll see what this can mean to your painting.



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Independent Productions and Aviation Services is the website of Conway Bown, Australian Army Official War Artist and Aviation Consultant. Services include portrait painting and other portraiture, aviation services such as CRM - Crew Resource Management - and Helicopter Underwater Escape Training - HUET - which may include Emergency Breathing Systems - EBS - training using Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Devices - HABD - or Helicopter Emergency Egress Device - HEEDs.

During 2006, Conway Bown deployed to the Middle East as the Australian Army's Official War Artist, what the US Armed Forces call Combat Artist. This website features the artwork created during this project as part of the Australian Army's Official Art Scheme.

For more information on War Art, Combat Artists, Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET), Emergency Breathing Systems (EBS) or Crew Resource Management (CRM), please visit the relevant webpages:

HUET - RHO Aviation

CRM - RHO Aviation

EBS - RHO Aviation

Official War Artist - IPAS.