Painting A Black And White Portrait

January 27, 2019 5:59 am by columnblogger
Black painting a portrait in black and white by dan lockaby
Black and white portraits of faces painted black and white 8
Painting A Black And White Portrait

Mix more shades of gray if you desire to blend the painted tones together more. Paint these onto the canvas, blending the different grays together as much as possible. Continue adding paint until you feel that all the tonal variations are well represented.

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Illustration How painting in black and white can improve your art How painting in black and white can improve your art

I’m happy with the shape and structure so it’s time to add in details. This is one of my favourite stages and I could happily detail characters all day long. I start to add in those dark shadows and bright highlights to really bring out the form of the character. I stick with a fairly small soft brush, sketch in and then build up those details, refining as I go.

Look at your photo carefully. Try to identify the darkest and lightest parts of the photos and then look for the tones in between.

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I start out with a simple silhouette and then build up to a refined design. This technique also makes creating any variations on the character very simple too, because there’s no need to worry about interfering with any colours you’ve painted.

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Mix your black and white paint together, until you are left with a medium-tone gray. Using your photo for reference, paint the darkest shadows you can see in the photo onto your canvas. The darkest areas usually include the neckline, the hairline, under the nose and under the eyes.

Once you’ve painted a shape that you’re pretty happy with, it’s time to start adding in some values. When doing this I don’t tend to use any values that are too bright or too dark, I like to keep things subtle while I’m building up the shape. I keep things pretty sketchy and gently add in some subtle shadows and highlights to find the structure of the body.

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Mix some pure white paint with only a small touch of gray. The resulting mixed color should be close to pure white. Observe your photo, and identify the bright highlights. Paint these onto the canvas sparingly, as it is easy to overdo this bright white color, which could wash out the tonal variations of the painting. The brightest highlights of the face usually include the teeth, the reflections in the eyes and any reflections that may be seen in the hair.

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Most of the time I opt for a black and white process. Here, I’m going to use the example of a character design, and run through some simple painting techniques you can use to get your black and white designs up to scratch.

A high contrast black and white photo can help you better identify highlights and shadows. (Image: portrait of a woman. b&w portrait image by Elena Platonova from

Charcoal stick Small paintbrushs Glass of water Paper towel Canvas Tube of black paint Tube of white paint Black and white photo for reference

Painting in black and white means you can focus on the image as a whole and resolve any glaring issues before you get to the colour stage. From here it’s pretty easy to just keep building up the detail until you’re ready to either go to colour or simply leave it as black and white.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 100.

Painting in black and white is great, because it makes you concentrate on elements such as composition, value, lighting and form. Of course, colour is a vital step, but the benefit of black and white is that you can focus on the image as a whole.

Mix a light shade of gray. It should be darker than pure white, but lighter than the medium-tone gray you had been using. Identify the lightest areas of the photo, and paint them onto your canvas with your light gray paint. These lightest areas usually include the whites of the eyes, the bridge of the nose, the cheekbones and the chin. You may want to paint your background this shade as well.

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Portrait painting can be challenging for many artists. (Image: Portrait image by Nenad Djedovic from

Draw a rough sketch of the portrait you are painting onto your canvas, using your charcoal. It is not necessary to include details in this rough sketch. Simple outlines and shapes are fine.

Portrait painting presents many challenges for an artist. Some artists even consider the human form to be one of the most difficult subjects to tackle. Although it can be challenging, the practice of portrait painting can help you grow as an artist. To start out with, try painting in black and white tones. Black and white portraits are sometimes considered ideal for a beginning portrait painter, as shadows and highlights can be better identified and represented through this neutral color palette.

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Mix a slightly lighter shade of gray. Look for the medium-toned areas of the photo and paint these onto your canvas. The medium-toned areas usually include the hair, the shadows created by the bridge of the nose, the lips and the shadows created by the cheekbones.

Remember to try and vary the values you’re choosing. You can use bright white highlights right through to dark greys and black. If you just stick to the middle ground and only use grey it can make things look a little flat.

First things first – I block out the character’s basic silhouette. I always try and keep things fairly rough at this point and avoid going into any detail too soon. Whether your character is a little kid or a hulking great giant, this is the time to focus on their shape and try and emphasise their character. Experiment with silhouettes until you find one you like.

Subtle highlights and shadows help define the structure of the body

How to Paint a Color Portrait from a Black & White Photograph    

Select a black and white photo of the person whose portrait you wish to paint. It helps if the photo is as large as possible, as this will make it easier to better identify the highlights and shadows.

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