Step-by-Step Oil Painting Portrait of a Man

Rad Educators is a 1 year program intended to help beginner artist learn step-by-step techniques from professional artists across different mediums. This is in no way sponsored or promoted by any particular Art Brand.


Nilisha Phad is Rad Educator for Oil Painting - Portrait



Oil painting is the most traditional and classical medium of painting for centuries. It lasts for years and years when preserved. It is also the most technical medium to work with. A knowledge of pigments and their nature is required. Time, layering and brushing are important factors while painting in oil.  Different artists approach oil paints with their own individual experiences and comfort. There are many different steps and methods of an oil painting. The following steps represent how I personally work with this medium. These steps can be stretched over a time duration ranging from 1 day to as long as 1 month. They are a summary of the long journey of painting an oil painting.  Step 1: Tinting  The purpose of tinting the canvas with a colour close to the skin tone or a temperature colour like green is to reduce the disturbance caused by the stark white surface. The colour of the canvas can be used to one’s advantage in the portrait. Step 2: Charcoal Block sketch  A “ block “ sketch is a sketch which uses thick strokes to cover and separate areas of shadow and light. As opposed to a line drawing, a block sketch helps to study the dimensions of the model/ subject.


Step 3: Acrylic fixing  Drawing with an acrylic colour helps in fixing the sketch and preparing it for the oil paint layering. Acrylic, being a water-based medium does not get affected by the oil paint and stays intact, ensuring that the further work stays within the correct framework of the initial sketch. 


Step 4: First wash The first wash is the most important wash when painting a portrait. It is important to use only transparent colours for the wash. Using an opaque colour can make the painting dull and muddy. This wash is a placing of colour tones that exist “below” the final highlights of the portrait. This wash determines 80% of how the final portrait is going to look and it’s the colour scheme. When giving this wash, a clear separation of shadows, light and dimensions is crucial.


Step 5: Building and finalizing 

Further, building the “groundwork” is important. The “ground” is nothing but creating dimensions through tones. These colours are the light -middle, middle-dark and dark tones. Ensure that these colours use minimal amount of “ white “ colour. They are the framework for the final highlights. Without the ground, the final “light” highlights would look harsh and misplaced. Using “ Naples Yellow” instead of just plain white is recommended for the colour tones in the final highlights. 


Finalizing the portrait is paying attention to the details such as eyes, final lights on the forehead, the tip of nose, lips, cheekbones and hair. The most important thing to remember is to control the urge to paint these details in any of the previous stages. This should be done only on completion of the previous stages.  Lastly, practising these steps while painting from a 3-dimensional Live model rather than a 2D photograph is important. Also, copy of masterworks by artists from the renaissance and baroque period can increase the practical knowledge of these stages.  Connect with her - Instagram


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