Harvest: Portrait Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

artist Lisa Larrabee
20" x 24"  Oil

There are many different ways to begin a painting.  One technique that I particularly enjoy involves "drawing in paint".  When I begin a portrait in this way, there is little to no preliminary drawing.  I begin my sketching of the features in paint.  I avoid creating too much contrast (lightest lights and darkest shadows) because it is much more forgiving when moving the paint around to make corrections.  This push and pull of shapes and shadows actually feels more to me like sculpting the features then drawing them.

As the features of the portrait get more accurate, I begin adding some stronger color and contrast.  This process has been painted alla prima (wet into wet).

It is very important to step back regularly from your painting to be able to accurately judge your progress and make corrections.  Some helpful tips: 
  • Take digital pictures of your work in progress.  Seeing your painting reduced to the size of a thumbnail can be incredibly helpful because it allows you to view the painting as a whole.   You get the added bonus of keeping a record of your painting stages.  
  • Use the grayscale function to view how accurately your values are painted.  
  • Look at your painting in a mirror.  If you feel like something is off, but you can't put your finger on it, seeing the mirror image can make the mistakes very clear.

Happy painting!
~ Lisa