How to Paint Children from a Photo

Painting children from life can be almost impossible, which is why using photographs are a great resource for the artist who wishes to produce something permanent as child portraiture.


Painting Portraits of Children


Using photographs to produce a painting of children is sometimes necessary if the artist wishes to practice painting facial features and skin tones. Unless the children are asleep, this may almost be impossible. But using photographs can contribute towards a unique painting of children.
 Tips on Painting Children from a Photograph


Child portraiture has its own set is challenges, but the following pointers may help the artist tackle issues that may arise from painting children.
  • Taking several photographs of children is more likely to yield one that captures children looking natural.
  • Avoid flash photography or artificial light, preferring natural daylight or sunlight, as this will yield interesting skin tones.
  • Avoid paint tubes exhibiting “flesh tint,” as this will produce an artificial undercurrent to the flesh colours.
  • Invest in good quality thin sables for detail on the facial features, such as the eyes and nose.
  • Begin with the palest areas of skin, to avoid the colour becoming contaminated by a neighbouring colour.
  • When painting faces, forget what they are, but to view them in an abstract way, for example, as areas of light, shade and colour.
  • Skin colours can contain the most unusual colours from violets to greens. Sensitive observation will result in an authentic painting of children.
  • Portraits will make little sense until completion. The artist must make allowances for this.

Art Materials Required

  1. Good quality photograph of children, preferably in natural light
  2. Oil paints in the following colours: titanium, pthalo blue, ultramarine, cadmium red, permanent rose, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, viridian, burnt sienna and burnt umber
  3. A 12” x 16” (30.5 x 40.5cm) primed art board
  4. A size 3 and size 6 round sable brushes
  5. A ½ inch wide bristle brush
  6. A palette consisting of a china plate or varnished wood.
  7. Pot of artists’ white spirits
  8. A few rags
  9. Soft pencil
The Colour of Skin
The photograph had been carefully sketched onto the painting surface. It is wise to begin with the most challenging part of the painting whilst the artist feels most up to it. In this case, the skin colours were divided into three simple tonal areas and applied with a thin sable. In terms of pale, middle and dark the skin colours consisted of burnt sienna and white; a little more burnt sienna into the mix, and finally the introduction of ultramarine.


Figure Painting


Keeping the rest of the painting simplified serves to retain the focal point on the children’s expressions. The clothes were painted briskly in with a thicker brush with ultramarine and permanent rose with varying amounts of white for the dress on the left, and pthalo blue and white for the other. The creases on the clothes were illustrated by a little more white and some blending with a clean soft brush.


Oil Painting Technique


The background was blocked in more suggestively. Stark contrasts were used to bring across the feeling of a sunny day. Once the painting surface had been covered with paint, it will often be necessary to go over previously painted areas to balance up the tones and touch up detail. For this reason, highlight and shadows were reinforced on the children’s faces with neat white and deep earth colours respectively. The final touches were supplied by the illustration of the soap bubbles with neat white from a thin sable.


Demonstration on Painting Children


Child portraiture is often thought to be a challenging subject matter for oil painting, but if the artist has a good quality photograph of children, takes care with the drawing and bans all preconceptions about how children should look, the beginner may be satisfied with the results. Skin colours often contain unusual colours and can be simplified into basic tonal areas. Retaining a suggestive feel to the background will serve to retain the focal point on the children’s faces.


This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my two art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author via this site, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased direct from Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010