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Hi! I am a new member and just found Mark’s video series last week. I have watched hours. 
So I am an abstract artist. Portraits stress me out.
This is a portrait I am working on as a graduation gift for a sweet young gal.  I am having an issue with the hair getting milky, and -absorbing the highlights, as I like to use a ton of layers and the paint in some areas On the face is not sticking to the canvas very well. It looks okay from a distance but up close I can see grain. Still working on the hair.
I just don’t want to give a gift that looks hokey.
Please advise if this is savable or burn pile🤷‍♀️.



  • I want you to paint my portrait! Looks lovely.
  • LBDavis

    Welcome to the Forum.

    Hair: Looking good. Needs some near black darks in shadow areas. A few highlight streaks will provide the pop contrast. Reduce white paint In the mix to the minimum.

    Face: Layering is about colour and value adjustment. Smooth transitions can be obtained by glazing or using Mark’s method of tiling colour checked value strings to obtain an optical mixing.
    Important to keep to the ‘fat over lean’ rule in any method. To apply a wet over dry patch, try ‘oiling out’ a small area as prep treatment.


  • Welcome to the forum.
  • HI, @LBDavis. Welcome to the forum. :) 

    She's a very pretty girl. Are you working from a photo? It helps us give constructive criticism if you also post the photo you are working from.  :)
  • @tassieguy thank you. Yes it is from a photo. The photo was super photoshopped and I had to dial it down a lot.  I will try to post a pic.
  • @LBDavis - Welcome, I'm also an abstract artist transitioning to realism and totally understand where you're coming from. 

    Over all you have a really good base so I wouldn't burn it yet - there are a couple issues that jump out. Her eyes need adjusting and form details - either her left eye is too large or her right is too small. May want to reconsider the eyelashes. Also take a look at her shoulder something is off there as well.

    You have all the structures in the right place they just need to be refined with lighter values to bring out the shape of her face more. Right now she is very flat because everything is the same value - adding a wider value range will help tremendously.

    Like tassiguy mentioned having the source material to reference is a plus.  

    With a little work, you differently will be able to deliver a gift you can be proud of. 
  • Here is the photo. Hardly any color and a little to seductive. I tried to tone it down. And yes the shoulder thing is weird as she is leaning against something. I have wiped the shoulder area off so many times and moved it. Weird. 
  • edited May 23
    Thanks for posting the photo, @LBDavis

    You're achieving a likeness and a few refinements, as pointed out by @douglail, would make it even better. You have a good base to work on.

    One thing that jumps out at me is the background. It is very high chroma - that electric blue/teal colour is so strong it pulls attention away from her face. If you toned the background down a bit we would focus more on the subject's face. 
    My other comment involves blending. Mark advises doing it as little as possible and leaving it until last. However, in your photo the sitter is heavily made up and, as you say, the image has been heavily Photoshooped and so it's difficult to see how you could achieve the same effect without a lot of blending and I'm only mentioning this as a suggestion for future realist portraits.

    I look forward to seeing more of your work.  :)
  • @LBDavis Yes, there very subtle differences in the tonal range here but our eyes detects those. Adding in some lighter areas will bring this up.

    Now with the reference photo it is her left eyes that is off. The top of eyelid is too high and the left side of face looks like it has gotten bumped out a little. 

    If it would be helpful I can mark these up for you?

  • You need more value range as others have said. This might help.. I took both pictures converted them to black and white and then made them use only 8 values. You can see the greater range in the face and hair:

  • edited May 23
    @Richard_P, that's a great way to pick up on problems in a painting. Sometimes colour just gets in the way. As Mark says, values are what count in realism. If ever I do another portrait I'm going to first reduce it to B&W as you have done here. I guess that's why some painters do a grisaille layer and then colour it - doing so helps them see what is really there and what's most important visually. Reducing my photos to B&W might help me with landscapes, too.  Get the form and values right first and we're 80% there. With realism, I guess we can be a bit creative with colour but if we get form and value wrong it just won't look right whatever we do with colour. No doubt that's why a Valsquez or a Vermeer, when reduced to B&W, still look fabulous. Well,  maybe they also knew a thing or two about composition but without correct form and values their realism wouldn't work.  Abstract painters have it easier IMHO. :)
  • Really like this B&S values posterization. Easy for me to just have on my phone and check. Think it will help my current project. 
  • WOW, thanks to all of you.  This really means a lot. 
    So I will attempt today to add more (value) color and highlights...I am beginning to dislike the word "value" greatly.  
    As far as the eyes, I am not sure how to correct, as the paint has dried and when I initially drew them I had to take some liberty as to what I thought the dimensions were as she had on some serious false lashes.
    I will slim the left cheek. 
    The shoulder is driving me crazy. I have repositioned it multiple times but her angle and my cropping it has the dimensions weird... thinking I will just cover with hair?

  • edited May 23
    @LBDavis Yeah painting realism is totally more about value because it's what creates the form. 

    When I'm at a lose of what do an overlay in photoshop always helps. It is a great way to see where the problems are very quickly and how to fix them.

    Below is a side by side of your portrait with the source overlay. It is dead on for the most part except for the area discussed earlier.

    Her shoulder is much wider in the photo. I also marked the areas that need to go up and down in value. 

    Hope this is helpful.

    You are very close - you've got this!!!

  • Don't burn it. it's a pretty portrait as is and would make a pretty gift. All you're doing is trying to refine it and make your details a little more accurate. If you want to paint realism, get used to the word VALUE and learn to love it. It's the most important thing. Even in abstract values are important. Check out Roy Neiman and Jackson Pollock. it's the right values that make their paintings work.
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