Then my little guy Chace must be pretty flattered.

Because I imitated him.

On canvas.

Now I’m not an artist or painter by ANY means, and I even hesitated to share this because I’m not any sort of professional on the subject… but then I realised I’m not really a professional on anything I blog about here! 😉 Just me rambling along about what I do. And this is what I did.

If we’re going to talk profession(al) mine is Graphic Design. Back in design school I did take some illustration and painting courses but have literally not done a painting since. Well actually I did do one in 2004 – but I wasn’t overly happy with it and I think I got discouraged so it was the only one I had done since I graduated. However, lately I’ve just had a really strong desire to paint. So I recalled any tips I could (from the back of the ol’ brain) and decided to start before I changed my mind – or got intimidated!

What I was thinking!? This is no small painting. It is 2′ x 3′! But for some odd reason I took the leap.

My reference was this photo of Chace that I took last year – one of my faves. I love his little expression.

I was hoping that it would turn out so that I could hang it above our living room couch. Chef Kev and I had been commenting lately that we needed some real ‘art’. Here it is so that you can get a sense of the scale.


Let me share my tools, tricks and tips incase they come in handy 🙂

To do a painting like this you will need the following. I will explain what to do with each later…

1) Acrylic Gel and Gesso

2) Brushes

3) Acrylic Paint – in addition to the ‘set’ I purchased the citrusey green and teal as I knew I wanted to pull a lot of those two colours into the piece. I also grabbed an extra white as you will be amazed how much white you go through. It’s faster than a three year old going through underwear when you’re potty training (not that I have any first hand experience with that – cough.LIE.cough).

4) Palette

5) charcoal

And of course a canvas! As mentioned mine was 24″ x 36″. I bought all of my supplies at Michaels and everything came in at less than $100. Not bad for a majorly huge piece of custom art! And if I do future paintings it will be less as I won’t have to buy new brushes, as much paint, a palette etc.

Okay – so now for the tricks, tips and basic ramblings of someone fumbling through a painting and then blogging about it after.

First you will want to prime your canvas with Gesso (large round tub in the top ‘supplies’ photo). There are debates about whether or not you actually need to do this step but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. I found the best way to apply the gesso was to liberally ‘paint’ it all over the canvas with my large foam brush.

It levels as it dries so don’t worry about brush strokes. You will need to let it dry overnight.

Once dry you can add some texture with your Acrylic Gel (tube in the top ‘supplies’ photo). I used the same brush but this time purposely painted it on with a more rough and ‘crosshatch’ motion. I wanted some nice globs. Those will dry hard and add some great texture to your painting (which you can see in some of the close-ups later). So get your glob on!

Once that is dry you are ready to begin painting! You can either freehand it from this point or transfer your image to the canvas as I did. I’m not the strongest illustrator (horrible really) so thought the best way for me to not pull out my hair and cry like a mad woman do this was to transfer my image of Chace to my canvas. That way he’d be ‘drawn’ proportionately and I’d have a framework to build my painting from. Some purists may call this cheating but I call it sanity. Pick your battles….

I blew my photo up to 2′ x 3′ and printed it out on a colour printer in ’tiles’ (pieces). Then I taped it together so I had a large paper ‘printout’.

From there I took the charcoal I mention in the supplies list and started scribbling like a toddler (again – experience here) all over the back. Side note: I did this step when Chace was asleep as he would have insisted he help with this part.

Charcoal = messy. Toddler + charcoal = you asked for it.

When you buy your charcoal you will want to get the ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ kind. A ‘soft’ charcoal will work better for this treatment as it’s darker and well, ‘softer’. In other words, it scribbles better.

You can see the tiled pages in this shot above as well.

When you are done you will thank yourself for putting your toddler to bed as your hands will look like this. Oh, and I’m right handed but my camera was in the right hand here so this is a shot of my clean hand.

Now go and change your white bed linens. Not a mandatory step in the completion of your painting but could still be fun? No. Okay.

Bad laundry joke aside, flip your large charcoal backed printout over and place on top of your DRY gesso/gelled canvas.

Then you trace your image. I didn’t trace every detail but rather blocked in my shapes, higlight areas, shadow zones etc.

When you are all done you will now have a line drawing of your painting that is in proportion to your reference photo. It kind of looks like a paint-by-number here but without the numbers and cheap packaging.

It looks creepy but really helps. Honest.

You can really see the Gel texture here after doing the charcoal rub and trace.

Next you can clean up/rub off the majority of the charcoal excess from your large printout and hang it somewhere visible as reference. I just taped mine up on the wall.

Now we start painting!

Add a splash of each colour to your palette…

begin mixing and GO. Have fun. Relax. Enjoy.

Here is where it gets a bit tricky as there is no right or wrong way to paint. It’s such a personal thing. I can only share how I did mine and encourage you to follow your heart (and eye) if you do your own.

I personally love the style of painting that has ‘hidden’ outlines. In otherwords, defined borders that are made of hits of colour versus an actual ‘line’. I hope my final photos explain that better but I began my painting by blocking in some ‘hidden’ outlines.

You can see I chose brighter colour on the right (highlight) and darker tones on the left (shadow). Establishing a light source allows your painting to look more natural. Not that this is supposed to look realistic but you know when you see something and think “that doesn’t look right” – a lot of the time it is a conflicting or unnatural light source.

Then I started filling in, and building ‘up’ my painting. My approach consisted of blocking in highlights, shadows and focussing on tone.

Attemping to do the eyes scared me so I left those blank as I built up my confidence.

This close up of the mouth is a good photo to show how I did my painting in layers. The mouth was not nearly as red and vibrant in the final piece but I started this way knowing that as I built up my layers of paint, this red base would peek through and add some ‘life’ and splashes of vibrant colour.

You can also see the charcoal rub drawing through this first layer. Once your first layer dries and you build upon it, those lines will disapear. After the first layer of paint the charcoal drawing isn’t really needed anymore so that is not an issue.

This painting is built up in about three main ‘layers’. Luckily acrylic dries fast so the actual painting part only took about 5-6 hours including the drying time.

Chef Kev was amazed how fast it was when it came right down to it. Yup, faster than Rob Pattinson moving out on Kristen Stewart. FAST!

Here is Chace’s face filling out…

And he now has eyes! Gulp.

Here is the background coming together. I orginally had done more of a foresty background like my inspiration photo but did not like it. It competed too much with Chace so I just painted over it!

It was as this point that I noticed his eye on the left looked a bit droopy. So I fixed it. You can also see a small printout of the photo on the left here. I had it right beside my canvas for reference (in addition to my large tiled one).

And kept building up the colour. You can see more highlights here – especially in the wood.

Starting to look a bit more finished now. I fiddled some more and then stood back and officially called it  – D.O.N.E!

My main goal was to challenge myself – and try to make it look like Chace. I’m happy with what I’ve done.

I also wanted Chace to love it.


He told me to take it back.

He said “No Chace funny face”

It scared him.

But he came around (aka I put it up anyway) and now loves it.

He calls it his “Chacey painting”.

Here are some close-ups and a few more notes…

You can see the ‘hidden’ outlines here. See how there are just little hits of colour that border his head? 

Here you can see how toned down the bright red mouth is after some more layering.

Adding little hits of colour (such as the teal in his eyelids) will add some character to your painting. Well, in my opinion anyway. Not necessary of course!

A close-up of his shirt collar and neck.

Here is close-up of the wood. You can really see a good example of the gel texture here.

To finish it all off I signed my piece and painted the canvas wrap edges black.

So there we have it! A crash course in portrait painting by this one little blogger.

What about you? Stepped out of your comfort zone recently? Painting something new? What do you think of my first painting attempt in 8 years!? I generally like to make jokes but this one I’m happy to not be the butt of so be kind 😉

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Liz Marie Blog