Beginner Friendly Portrait Painting Tutorial

Author: Dana McGorlick-Appelman  Date Posted:10 February 2022 

In this tutorial, we’ll teach you how to mix realistic skin tones, as well as the basics of composition.

If you’re looking for a fun and creative date night activity for you and your partner, look no further. This portrait painting activity is sure to make for an unforgettable date night experience or a fun activity to share with friends! We used the Paint your Partner’s Portrait | Acrylic Paint & Sip Date Night Kit for this tutorial. In this tutorial, we’ll teach you how to mix realistic skin tones, as well as the basics of composition. A special thanks to Art Shed Tom for putting together this beginner-friendly demo!


Step 1. Set up your workstation

Start by setting up your easel and canvas, as well as laying out the paints that you are planning to use. You will also want to get your brushes ready, as well as get a cup filled with water to clean your brushes in between use. It’s also helpful to have some paper towel handy to dry your brushes. You may also want to lay down a drop sheet to protect your workspace.


Step 2. Layout the colour from your acrylic paint set on the palette.

We used the Mont Marte Paint Set - Signature Acrylic Paint Set 18pce x 36ml. This set has a wide range of colours, and has enough variety to enable us to mix many different skins tones and skin colours.

The 6 colours you need on your palette to be able to mix more realistic skins tones are:

  • Yellow ochre

  • Burnt sienna

  • Brilliant red

  • Cerulean blue

  • Black 

  • Titanium white


For lighter complexions, start by mixing even parts of burnt sienna and yellow ochre. And then by simply adding white, you can create lighter tonal values of the same colour. 

Keep in mind that sometimes the colour may be pinker, in which case add a little bit of red. And sometimes in the shadows there may be blue tones, in this case, you can add a touch of blue.

For darker complexions, we are using burnt sienna again, and tinting it with black. Remember the black paint pigment has a lot of tinting strength.

Once again you can create lighter tonal values by adding white. And warm up the colour by either adding red or burnt sienna.


3. Toning the canvas

Start by toning the canvas with yellow ochre. This helps to subdue the stark white of the canvas.


4. Sketch in your portrait

Next, start to rough in your drawing. You can do this with paint or a coloured pencil. Just make sure your paint is dry first if you choose to use a pencil.

Start by roughing in the shape and scale of the head on the canvas.

Then work out where to place the eyes nose and mouth.

Divide the head in half to find the axis for the eyes and nose.

Halfway between the eyes and the chin is your nose, and halfway between the nose and the chin is the mouth.

This is a simple technique to help you find the basic structure of the face.

Next, position the ears and the hair.


5. Mark in details using a dark colour

Start marking in some of the details of the main features using a darker colour which is mixed from burnt sienna and black in this case.

Remember: Don’t feel like you have to aim for realism if this is your first time painting a portrait, or you are painting this portrait as an activity with your partner or friends for a bit of fun. Maybe you are more interested in painting in an abstract style. Learning to paint should be fun. And painting realistic portraits takes practice.


6. Block in mid-tones

Next, start blocking in the mid-tones using yellow ochre and burnt sienna.

Working from the dark tonal value to the lighter value is a good method to use. As you can layer the tones accordingly.

It helps to lay in these areas with the larger flat brush, this helps you cover the canvas faster. And you can add in more detail later if you want to.

TIP: To help you see the tonal values a good tip is to squint your eyes when looking at the subject. This simple action cuts out the details and help you to see only the tonal planes and values. It takes practice, but give it a shot.


7. Adding in details

Once the tonal planes are blocked in, come back in over the top using a smaller brush and add the detail. Adding the highlights to the eyes brings it to life.


8. Add colour

Now to add some life and a bit of fun to this painting. Tom used some brighter colours in the hair and background, just to show you that you don’t have to get too caught up in using realistic colours.

Remember, the aim of this is to have some fun. Capturing a likeness takes practice, patience and time. 


If you’re looking for further information on acrylic painting, check out our blogs on A Beginners Guide to Acrylic Painting,  Acrylic Painting FAQs and 10 Acrylic Painting Tips.

Don't forget to show us your portrait paintings by tagging us on Instagram @artshedonline for your chance to be featured!

Got questions? Send us an email at and our friendly team of artists will do their best to assist you. 

Have fun, and happy creating!

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