Using Acrylics Like Oils for Portraits

Inspired by the work of John Wentz on Instagram, I worked on painting a portrait with acrylic paint. I started with a blue background and I used white charcoal pencil to draw a grid and a sketch of the face. I used a watered down brush with Van Dyke Brown to block out the shadows.

I mixed acrylic soft gel gloss with heavy body paints ( Van Dyke Brown, Yellow Ochre, Napthol Red Medium, and Anthraquinone Blue) and slowly layered them on top of each other to build up the saturation and color.

I also experimented with using filbert brushes, which has an oval shaped tip that makes it easier to blend the paint layers on top of each other. I mixed all my colors on a Sta-wet palette and I misted it with a spray bottle to keep it moist. I think it helped make it easier to mix up the color more easily.

I painted in the hair and the background in duller neutrals to make the face stand out more. Since the board already had several layers of paint underneath it, the paint brushed onto the surface unevenly.

Xander Dec 18 - 12 x 12 acrylic on wood panel


Building up the layers of paint mixed with soft gloss gel took time, but I felt that it took the pressure off to make it perfect. I had a lot of flexibility to change the color and correct it, and the acrylic dried quickly so it was easy to add a new layer.

Figuring out how to paint the shadows to create a sense of form is my biggest challenge. I can draw in the nose and the mouth, but adding the paint on top to make it look realistic was hard. I need to learn how to mix up cool and warm shadows more accurately.

I used a lot of small brushes to achieve more control over painting the lips and the nose. I want to try painting a larger version of this portrait so I can be more free with my brushwork. It might be good to add a layer of matte gel to the background so it stands back a little more. I could also add a pastel ground to the face so I could add some pastels to the eyes and highlight them even more.

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