Painting Portraits in Acrylic Paint

Beth Gatza, Artist in Los Angeles, CA

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
16 Lessons (59m)
    • 1. Introduction to the Class

    • 2. About Me

    • 3. Blooper Introduction

    • 4. Tools - With Description

    • 5. Tools Shopping List

    • 6. How We Will Paint our Portrait

    • 7. Visual Demonstration of the Painting Process

    • 8. Wrapping your Canvas

    • 9. Drawing Your Preliminary Sketch

    • 10. How To Set Up Your Paint Palette

    • 11. Underpainting: Part 1

    • 12. Underpainting: Part 2

    • 13. Underpainting: Part 3

    • 14. Laying Color on Your Grisaille- Demonstration

    • 15. Paint Formulas for Skin Tone

    • 16. Detail Work

12 students are watching this class

Project Description

Paint a Portrait of Someone you Like to Look At!


What We Will Do in this Class

The class project is an 8" x 10" or 8.5'' x 11" acrylic portrait painting. You will learn how to paint a professional looking portrait in a short amount of time, and with a limited budget. This course is for beginners who feel as though they do not have the time, money or patience to pursue art. I know that when this course is finished, you will want to spend more time learning this trade and developing your own stylistic skills.

Your model (maybe even your muse) will be somebody that you like to look at, primarily because you will be spending a lot of time looking at this person and studying their features when you paint their portrait.

Some ideas of who to choose:

  • You may choose a significant other
  • A family member
  • A celebrity
  • A model
  • Perhaps go online and do an image search of models with facial features that interest you. 

Don't worry too much about copyright issues at this moment, because you are interpreting these photos into your own painting. 

At the end of the project, you will share your painting with the rest of the students in the class. You may be fearful to do this, but part of being an artist is showing your work and being critiqued on it. You will also critique (or comment) on other student's art pieces. For the sake of being a beginner painter, we will be conducting a positive critique, where we will only share what we like about other's portraits and NOT what we don't like.

Q&A Before choosing to take this class

Can I take this class if I have never painted before?

Yes! This class is specifically for beginners, or people who have not painted in a long period of time. You will be walked through the process of painting 1 portrait step-by-step until completion. You will begin to see that the steps are fairly easy, and you will begin to understand how painting works just by completing each step. In the end, you will have a beautiful painting and a greater ability to create your own paintings without guidance. 

Why are we painting from photographs?

Painting from photographs is often frowned upon because you can gain a greater understanding of natural color and light by painting from a live model. Yet, the purpose of this course is to gain a greater understanding of HOW to paint in general. You will begin to understand the very basics of how paint interacts with the canvas, the brush and ourselves. We will mix colors, learn how to layer our paint, and overcome the fear of being able to paint while being in the privacy of your own home.

By using photographs, we are able to have a consistent reference to look at, and I will be able to explain why the camera picked up certain shadows, highlights, and colors which will aid us when painting our own portraits. 


We will be working on an 8"x10", or 8.5"x11 surface (about the size of a sheet of copy paper). You may choose to go bigger in size if you wish, but keep in mind that we are focusing on learning how to paint only the head of your chosen person/model. If you are new to painting, you may want to limit the size of your canvas.

Why Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint is a great medium to learn how to paint. It is a low cost paint that dries very quickly, and can be purchased very easily from craft stores, department stores as well as your neighborhood pharmacies- I do not want there to be any reason for you not to paint. 

Do I have to paint on Canvas?

No. In fact, another great reason why acrylic paint is so great to use, is that it is a plastic based paint that has great coverage on a variety of materials. Canvas or canvas board will be the easiest material to paint on, as it is pre-gessoed* and ready to paint on directly. Other material may need to be gessoed* to give yourself a more absorbent and primed painting surface.

*What is Gesso? (Pronounced Jesso)

Gesso is a paint primer. Just like you prime your walls before painting them, you prime your painting surface before painting. Gesso has a binder in it that will begin to thicken your surface. Since canvas can be very thin and porous to begin with, each layer of gesso applied to your canvas will guarantee that less paint will soak through the backside of your painting. Gesso is also used to preserve your painting for a longer period of time while maintaining your color vibrancy.

Gesso comes in a variety of colors, but most commonly gesso comes in white and black. White is the most popular of gesso colors as it gives a clean surface to plan your painting out on before laying your paint down. Black gesso can be very striking, and often looks very beautiful for portrait paintings. Most painters who use black gesso, do not use black paint in their paintings, rather they let the gesso shine through underneath. 

If you are priming, or gessoing your own canvas, make sure to let each layer dry completely before applying your next layer. Also make sure that you use SAND PAPER to smooth down each layer before applying the next. Sand paper will give you a glass-like surface.

Student Projects

Beth Gatza