How to Set Up the Portrait Painting Props In Oil
Portrait painting is not exclusively about the subject. Props can play a large role in portraits, and setting
them up can be tricky, not to mention choosing them in the first place. In this portrait painting lesson, we will talk
about some of the tips that you can use for slightly more advanced oil
Set up your props before painting the portrait, to make things easier for yourself. If you only add them to the
composition later on, you may find that you have difficulty with shadows, perspective and balance.
When choosing props, only use items that are necessary, and which add meaning to your painting. Too many props
will clutter your portrait, and laying them out can be trickier when there are more of them, which may cause you to
unknowingly create a lack of balance in your composition. Try to pick props that go well with your subject.
Choose colors that don’t detract from your subject, but rather compliment it. Good props to use would be items
that are important to the subject, or that describe the subject rather well (For instance, an avid collector of
teacups would be seated at a table that had one or two teacups placed on it, or the owner of a bookstore might be
standing in front of a small bookshelf).
Use props to create focal points in your painting. Organize objects from tall to short to create diagonal lines
that point to specific features in your subject. This can be a useful way to draw an observer in to look at the
eyes, or the mouth, or any other feature that you feel should be focused upon.
Overlap items in order to create depth and perspective. Place some props in front of others to do this, and even
overlap the props with your subject, if it would be appropriate.
Use a viewfinder while placing props in a portrait. This will help you to decide if you want a closed portrait
(all props and subject within the frame of the canvas) or an open portrait (some props and the subject touching the
edge of the canvas, creating the illusion that there is more beyond the edge of the canvas).
You can also use the viewfinder to notice where your composition is unbalanced. This means that you can arrange
and rearrange props over and over again until you are happy with the set-up.
If you are painting outside (not recommended for beginners, as the moving sun makes shadows a conundrum to
paint), then remember that you will need to secure lightweight and unbalanced items well, so that the wind won’t
blow things over all the time.
While lighting your subject, remember that the props need to be well-lit as well. Don’t neglect them in the
initial process of setting up lighting, as this can create problems for you later on. A prop that is placed in the
shadow of the subject should not be brighter and should not have more highlights than a prop that is standing in a
pool of light.
Don’t forget that other paintings can also be used as props. As long as you’re not violating any copyrights, and
if you feel like going into even more detail and spending a little more time and effort on the portrait, then feel
free to include other artworks.
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