Category Archives: Head Sketches

Painting a Portrait after Sargent

Sargent Portrait copy Rob Tijink 8

Some pictures of the work in progress:

I think that one of the best ways to learn portrait painting is to copy old master paintings. I do this once in a while and this time I put up a picture of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Henry James on the computer screen next to my easel.

A portrait is a picture in which there is something not quite right about the mouth – John singer sargent

The colors that I used are: Burnt Umber, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White.

I started with Burnt Umber to define the shadows and after adding the background I let the under-painting dry until the next day.

Then I mixed a basic skin color of Cadmium Red Light, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. By making warming and colder variations of this color, I started working from the large shapes of the head to the smaller shapes.

Of course, when you copy a master painting the problems with composition, design, light/dark, hard/soft edges are already solved by the artist. I believe that this is the area where there’s most to learn. The preparation of the painting, before even starting to paint, is most important.

In one of the books by Andrew Loomis, he writes that “creativity lies in the conception and the rest is good carpenter work.” I’m starting to see that more and more. Mixing the colors and painting the final picture is the easy part!

I stopped the painting here, after two painting sessions, maybe I’ll continue refining it in the future. I’m pleased with the overall shape of the head, especially the light on the forehead, but -as always-, the mouth needs some more work!

Portrait Sketch in oil paint


Portrait sketch
15 x 17 cm

In this sketch I tried to pay attention to the structure of the head, while keeping the brushwork as loose as possible. I drew with the brush straight on the canvas, without a detailed underdrawing. I like this spontaneous way of working.

I feel that all the hours of figure drawing and studying anatomy are finally starting to pay off.

I’m now able to make these kind of sketches fairly quick, in about 45 minutes I think, since I always loose my sense of time when I’m painting…



Portrait Sketch on Canson paper



Sketch after a Andrew Loomis drawing on Canson paper.

When I visited Holland, I bought a Canson drawing pad called “C a grain”. This is a grainy paper that I couldn’t find in stores in Norway.

I like to use the side of the pencil for shading and this paper is great for that. Because of the grain, you can get dark tones with just a HB or 2B pencil. Instead of switching pencils for darker tones I like to start and finish a drawing with the same pencil, and with this paper I can do that.



Portrait Sketch #12


Pencil on nostalgia paper

While I normally use Photoshop to crop and edit my drawings, this time I used the free Gimp 2.8 software to see if I could get similar results.

I had been looking for an easy way to apply a halftone effect to my drawings and Gimp has a filter called ‘newsprint’ that can do this. It’s hidden in the distorts menu ( Filters -> Distorts -> Newsprint).

After some trial and error, I ended up with the settings below.

Gimp plugin settings

Cell size is the most important parameter here. The line option in the spot function menu gave also interesting results.

The halftone effect was a little strong, so I duplicated the original layer and applied the plugin to this layer. Then I changed the layer mode to multiply and adjusted the opacity down to 55%.

Gimp Layers Window

Captain illustration


Black gouache paint on illustration board

Lately I’ve been practicing drawing heads from a paused TV screen. Instead of copying the scene or getting a likeness, I try to add something of my own to the drawing.

Here I used black gouache paint thinned with lots of water, but I find it quite difficult to get even washes.