5 Key Techniques for Acrylic Portrait Painting
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


1. Selecting Your Color Palette

2. Preparing Your Canvas

3. Sketching Your Portrait

4. Applying the Paint

5. Finalizing Your Portrait

Embarking on an acrylic portrait can be both exciting and daunting—especially when it comes to selecting your color palette. But don't worry, we're here to guide you through this vital first step.

1. Selecting Your Color Palette

Choosing the right colors is like setting the tone for a conversation—it can make or break your acrylic portrait. Here, we'll look into experimenting with colors, understanding color theory, and choosing the right acrylic paint brands.

Experimenting with Colors

Art is about creativity, and your color palette should be no different. Don't limit yourself to the conventional browns and peaches for skin tones. Feel free to explore blues, greens, or even purples. The sky is the limit when it comes to your acrylic portrait!

Understanding Color Theory

Color theory is your map in the vast sea of colors. It can guide you on which colors complement each other, and which ones might clash. For instance, did you know that red and green are complementary colors? That's because they're opposite each other on the color wheel. So, the next time you're working on an acrylic portrait, remember to consult your handy color wheel.

Choosing Acrylic Paint Brands

Not all paints are created equal. Some brands, like Golden and Liquitex, are known for their vibrant colors and excellent durability. Others, like Amsterdam and Winsor & Newton, provide great quality at a more affordable price. Remember, the right brand can be the secret ingredient in your acrylic portrait masterpiece.

2. Preparing Your Canvas

Once you've selected your colors, it's time to prepare your canvas. This stage is like setting the stage before a play—it's all about setting up the right conditions for your acrylic portrait to shine.

Selecting the Right Canvas

A good canvas can make a world of difference to your acrylic portrait. What should you look for? Always go for a canvas with a smooth surface—this will ensure that your paint glides on effortlessly. It's also important to consider the size of your canvas. A larger canvas will allow for more detail, but it can also be more intimidating. Don't be afraid to start small and work your way up.

Priming Your Canvas

Priming your canvas is a step you shouldn't skip. It can extend the life of your acrylic portrait by preventing the paint from seeping into the canvas. Plus, a primed canvas will help your colors pop. You can use a store-bought primer like Gesso, or you can make your own homemade mixture with equal parts PVA glue and water.

Setting Up Your Painting Space

Last but not least, setting up your painting space. Whether it's a corner of your bedroom or a dedicated art studio, you need a space where you can focus on your acrylic portrait without any distractions. Make sure you have good lighting—natural light is best, but if that's not possible, a daylight bulb can do the trick. Also, remember to keep all your tools within arm's reach. There's nothing more annoying than having to stop mid-painting to search for a missing brush.

3. Sketching Your Portrait

With your canvas prepped and painting zone established, it's time to sketch your portrait. This stage of the process can feel a bit daunting, especially if you're new to portraiture, but don't worry—you can do this. Let's break it down:

Getting the Proportions Right

First things first, getting the proportions right. It's important to remember that everyone's face is different. However, there are some general rules that can guide you. For instance, the eyes are usually halfway down the head, and the space between the eyes is typically the width of one eye. It might help to lightly mark these guidelines on your canvas with a pencil. But remember, these are just guidelines—not hard and fast rules. So, don't get too hung up on exact measurements.

Using Reference Photos

Next, let's talk about reference photos. Unless you're a seasoned artist who can paint a perfect acrylic portrait from memory, a reference photo can be a real lifesaver. It gives you a clear idea of your subject's features and expressions. When choosing a reference photo, make sure it's clear and detailed. A blurry photo might leave you guessing about key details. And trust me, you don't want to be guessing when it comes to painting someone's face!

Defining Features and Details

Finally, defining features and details. This is where your acrylic portrait starts to come to life. Pay special attention to the eyes, as they are often said to be the 'windows to the soul'. But don't forget other distinguishing features like freckles, scars, or a particular way the subject's hair falls. These details can add a level of realism and personality to your acrylic portrait that really makes it stand out.

4. Applying the Paint

Now that you've sketched your portrait, it's time for the exciting part—applying the paint. Just like a baker carefully adds ingredients to a recipe, you'll be adding layers of color to your canvas. Let's explore how to apply paint to your acrylic portrait effectively:

Understanding Brush Techniques

The first step is understanding brush techniques. The way you maneuver your brush on the canvas can drastically change the outcome of your acrylic portrait. For instance, a flat brush can be excellent for broader strokes, while a round brush can help with detailed work. It's also worth noting that how you hold your brush matters. Holding it closer to the bristles gives you more control, while holding it at the end can lead to looser strokes. The key is to practice and find what works best for you.

Creating Depth and Texture

Creating depth and texture is the next step. This is what gives your acrylic portrait a three-dimensional look. One way to achieve this is by using a technique called "dry brushing", where you apply a small amount of paint to your brush and apply it lightly to the canvas. This creates a textured, almost scratchy look. Another technique is "glazing", where you apply a thin, transparent layer of paint over a dried layer to create depth. By using these techniques, your acrylic portrait will start to really pop off the canvas.

Blending Colors Effectively

Finally, blending colors effectively. This can be a bit tricky with acrylics, as they tend to dry quickly. The trick is to work fast and use a medium to slow the drying time. When you blend colors, try to do it while the paint is still wet to achieve a smooth transition. And remember, don't be afraid to mix your paints directly on the canvas. Sometimes, the best color combinations are discovered by accident!

5. Finalizing Your Portrait

With the paint applied, we're nearing the finish line. But before we call it a day, there are a few final touches to add. Here's how to finalize your acrylic portrait:

Adding Finishing Touches

Adding finishing touches to your acrylic portrait can really make it stand out. Consider enhancing the highlights in your subject's eyes, or adding a touch of color to their cheeks. Maybe there's a stray hair you'd like to add, or a wrinkle you'd like to define a bit more. These small, delicate enhancements can really bring your portrait to life.

Evaluating Your Work

Once you've added your final touches, take a step back and evaluate your work. Look at your acrylic portrait from different angles and distances. Does everything look balanced? Are the colors working well together? If something seems off, don't hesitate to make adjustments. Remember, art is never finished, only abandoned.

Preserving Your Painting

Lastly, it's important to preserve your acrylic portrait. A coat of varnish can protect your painting from dust and UV rays, and give it a beautiful sheen. Try to choose a varnish that's specifically designed for acrylics, like the Golden Polymer Varnish, which comes in both gloss and matte finishes. Once that's dry, your masterpiece is ready to be displayed.

And there you have it! By following these techniques, you'll be well on your way to creating stunning acrylic portraits. So grab your brush, and let's get painting!

If you're eager to further develop your acrylic portrait painting techniques, don't miss out on the workshop 'Improve Your Acrylic Painting Skills' by Rachel Christopoulos. This comprehensive workshop will help you master key techniques and elevate your acrylic portrait painting skills to new heights.