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Portrait Demonstration Using Oil

Portrait Demonstration Using Oil

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By David Jon Kassan

My first intention for this demonstration was to do a quick study in oil, without a preliminary drawing, of the model’s eyes, but as I started working, I found the model’s face compelling. I decided to block in the face at a life-size scale and see how much of it would fit on the 8×10 support with which I’d started. I thought it would be fun to see the face emerging from the surface, so I created a time-lapse film of the entire demonstration for my YouTube page. Only the initial stages of the painting process are seen in the step-by-step demonstration shown here. In both the film and these stills, you can can get a sense of my color choices by observing my palette, to the right of my untitled study.

1. Starting with a PanPastel No. 5 Sofft trowel-shaped tool, I block in the large masses and shadow shapes of the head, using a mix of burnt umber and odorless mineral spirits (Turpenoid). I use two tools to do this, one to apply paint and another dry tool to lift paint from the surface.

2. Once I have a quick and expressive foundation blocked in, I place little color spots or notes throughout the face. I base these notes on loose color impressions and my sense of the values.

3. After some initial color responses, I go back into the larger shadow shapes to define them more accurately, homing in on how the exact angles and shapes interact and relate to one another as a whole.

4. At this stage, I apply more color hatch notes that loosely describe the form’s direction, topography and rhythm. A little thicker paint is applied.

5. I refine further. I tend to go from large masses to small and back again—back and forth, so that areas get more accurate in relationship to the whole.

6. I define things further—with a fine No. 2 kolinsky sable brush—thinking about how each of my lattice strokes follows the form.

7. I continue to refine and tighten the drawing as I develop the form and color with overlapping hatches. At this point, I’m thinking about areas that have subtle transitions and relations.

To read more about Kassan’s work, click here to get your digital copy of the April 2011 issue of Magazine and read the feature article “Urban Studies,” by Jill Bossert.

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See an award-winning artists’ approach to oils. Click here for a link to a free preview of Expressive Oil Painting with George Allen Durkee from


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Watch the video: Life portrait painting in oil demonstration by Yim Mau-Kun (August 2022).