OCAD Studio: Limited Palette Portrait in Oils Part 2

Adding Variations to the Shadows



    • Small canvas or a panel prepared with a mid grey/brown value.
    • 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. Start by adding the darkest darks (most likely pure black) to the shadow shapes you sketched in part 1. The darkest areas will usually be the creases or places where direct and reflected right can’t reach, so parts of the nose and ear often have dark accents. Dark hair will also have areas which are pure black.
  2. Try to keep the shadows fairly thin/diluted by mixing in some mineral spirits with your paint.
  3. The next darkest part of the shadows after the creases are the ’bedbug lines’ – the lines that separate shadow shapes from light shapes. This part of the form doesn’t receive any direct light or any reflected light making it much darker than the average value of the shadows.
  4. Once the darkest values are in, you can add progressively lighter colours to the shadows. Work from dark to light as this will help you to control the values and colours as you add them.
  5. You should notice that the areas with the most reflected light the lightest and highest chroma parts of the shadows
  6. Your palette has black, cadmium red, yellow ochre and white, you will need to find the right combination of these three pigments to capture the sense of the reference image or subject.
  7. If you mix black and white, the result will be a cool grey, whereas cadmium red and yellow ochre will make a bright orange. Use these shifts to make subtle shifts between warm and cools in the shadows.
  8. Take time to shift the values, hues and temperatures back and forth as you try to match the relationships in the reference or your subject.
  9. Once you’re happy with the shadows, wash your brushes and palette and leave the painting until dry to the touch (at least 3 days).

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