Portrait of Nommy in Oil- Process explanation

My most recent oil painting

This oil portrait of one my best friends Nommy, is my most recent picture to date. In total it took me 3-4 weeks to complete, partly because I was only painting 2-3 a day (not much daylight in winter!). Couple that with the fact that admittedly I spend more time deciding what my next stroke will be instead of painting!

This oil portrait was inspired by a photograph taken my Naomi peachey. Go and look at her portraits and the original photo @thekalosproject.

Stages of creation (how I did it)


The first stage of all paintings is of course the drawing. Personally for me this is probably the most important stage. If you get the drawing perfect everything later on becomes easier. I will spend quite a few hours getting the drawing to a point where I have enough information to confidentially paint, but with as little pencil as possible which is going to mix in and discolour the oils. 

A grid method is always a reliable way to lay down an accurate drawing.    If you’re drawing from a picture you can simply print it out and draw on the grid, then scale up with a little bit of maths to draw a directly proportional grid on your canvas.


If you ignore how scary Nommy’s teeth look then you may have noticed that I chose to paint my background first. For me when it is a single colour then this makes sense as you won’t ideally have to spend your time outlining later on.

Furthermore I chose to paint the background in acrylic for 2 reasons. Firstly this works as a primer for your canvas. Secondly a background in oil would take an agonisingly long time to dry, whereas with acrylic I can start work on the figure immediately (and can rest my hand on a dry background whilst I paint). Unfortunately painting the background first will influence how one sees the colours which are put on top of this layer (especially noticeable with oils).


The Painting

  I began painting with the hair on the left hand side, then generally continued the painting from left to right, which makes sense for me as someone who is right handed; in this way I’m less likely to smudge any wet paint.

Painting this portrait was for me the first occasion have had to handle painting a black skin tone, which was made a little trickier by the fact that I’d prepainted a yellow acrylic background. Thus there was a visible difference between the browns I was mixing on my palette, and the appearance of the browns once painted over the yellow background.

When mixing skin tones I would definitely recommend mixing a large amount of  a chosen base skin tone. Attempting to recreate a colour you have run out of is often a nightmare, and more often than not you will end up with a slight variation of what you wanted . You can then take a bit of this base to further mix the other skin tone variations with, giving you a consistent starting point. If you are completing an oil painting over a longer time frame you can also cover your palette with clingfilm to save the colours you’ve already made for when you start painting again. This is when the slow drying properties of oils are a blessing. Doing this will likely save you time and  allow you to produce a more consistent painting.

If you have bright white areas start building up the layers early on as white will be transculent and allow the background colour to come through.


A Second Layer?

Personally I would not normally bother with second layer. The way that I work (slowly) means that I won’t move on to the next section till I’m satisfied with how it looks. Therefore normally there would no need to go over the whole painting again for a second time (I also would not usually find any time to do this, or my patience has run out).

However, in the case of this portrait I found that the yellow was overpowering the browns of the skin tone and also hindering the blending of the different tones. Since I wasn’t satisfied with how it looked and I had 3 weeks off work due to glandular fever, I decided to paint over mainly just the face a second time.

WhatsApp Image 2017-03-14 at 15.19.20

Halfway through working on the second layer and you can  clearly observe the contrast between the completed sections and the single layered areas.

WhatsApp Image 2017-03-14 at 15.19.50



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