OCAD Studio: Limited Palette Portrait in Oils Part 3

Dead Colouring


The purpose of this stage is to block in all the major tones and colours. You do not need to go for lots of detail, just use large masses to give an effective impression of the subject. You will work from dark halftones to lights across the portrait, this will establish a sense of form and light. Once everything is well balanced, you will leave the painting to dry before returning to refine the individual forms of the subject (nose, eyes, mouth and hair etc.).



    • Small canvas or a panel prepared for painting
    • 2-3 flat brushes (¼-1 inch wide)
    • 2 small pointed brushes
    • Piece of soft charcoal


  • Titanium White Oil Paint
  • Cadmium Red Oil Paint
  • Yellow Ochre Oil Paint
  • Ivory Black Oil Paint


  • Palette
  • Easel
  • Thinner (I recommend odourless mineral spirits (OMS))
  • Linseed Oil
  • Painting rag or kitchen paper towel for wiping back and cleaning


  1. Begin by adding the lightest value on your portrait, usually the lightest part of the face (if lit from above this would be the forehead). Try to get the right hue by mixing yellow ochre and cadmium red with white. Be careful not to add cadmium red too quickly as it has a high tinting strength and will make everything very red very quickly!
  2. Once you’re happy with the lightest value, clean your brush or take a new one and mix a colour for the darkest halftone, this will use a mixture of all four pigments. It should be slightly lighter than the shadow and emerge from the bedbug line that you established while adding variations to the shadows.
  3. Now that you have your lightest colour and darkest colour blocked in you can work progressively from dark to light, adding paint in large masses. Don’t blend too much as this will make your painting mushy and indistinct.
  4. As a general rule your, colours should get higher chroma (more saturated) as they get lighter. This enhance the luminosity of the portrait. If you struggle to balance the hue, value and chroma, don’t worry too much. It will be possible to correct things with glazing and scumbling in later stages. The most important thing is that the values are correct as they will give a sense of form and 3Dness to the painting.
  5. Once you’ve blocked in all the colours in the face, you can add hair, clothing and the background. Feel free to be looser with these parts as the focal point of the image is the face.
  6. When you’re happy with how everything looks, leave the painting to dry completely



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