i cant do realism in portraits..


Mac-Valve Maestro!
i been say for ages that realism is something i struggle with, i can do nice pictures of things but they lack something that makes them look real.. its really frustrating, i struggle mostly with portraits.. any advice welcome. or any one else want to share their struggles too. :)

i struggle to get the details in. i struggle to find good reference photos, i struggle with size.. its all a struggle lol!!!
IMG_20160708_145549863_HDR.jpg IMG_20160713_110438875.jpg these are a couple of portraits i have started and i just look at thinking theres no point trying to finish as they are just bad!!!!!! i think im working too small (a4) maybe and missing some vital stage somewhere.. theres not a lot of hours of work in either of these but i just am not enjoying painting them and cant see them looking good when finished.. for some reason painting portraits (to look real) instantly fills me with dread... IMG_20160713_113939285.jpg IMG_20160713_114526442.jpg
Check out Mark Crilley on you tube... he is a pencil artist. He has some great tips for getting realism. I got his book "The realism challenge" Very good.
with pencils i can get close to realism.. i was a portrait artist for over 15 years before i discovered airbrushing.. i just cant get my airbrush to do it at all! 399685_563356610370840_1570745561_n (1).jpg this is me just doing a quick sketch before starting a bigger version of the picture..
Doing realism is for a start all about looking and trying to coppy a reference as exactly as possible. When I say coppy I mean study your reference. You want to learn how light affects shapes and forms and how the difference between lighter and dark areas create those forms and shapes. You'll notice that after a while you start to recognise certain things that make something look realistic and than you can start to "tweak/adjust" your references.

Don't just apply paint, know what you are doing and trying to achive. If you don't know what the outcome of what you are about to do is don't do it (and paint a test piece). Before applying paint ask yourself.
-What am I seeing on the reference.
-What makes it look like that (how does the light affect shapes and forms)
-What texture does it have
-What method do I have to use to get what I see on paper
-Am I sure that what I'm about to do with the airbrush will get the result I want

Don't start with color stuf. Realism at the start is hard enough as it is without the added difficulty of having to do it in color. Also don't start doing color with out having a more than rudementary knowledge of color theory. If you want to do realism in color you will have to read up on it (you can't fix a car if you don't know how an angine works).

For most methods used to achieve realism (there are few "schools") the base is still an initial layout of your light and dark areas so doing a few in black and white and knowing how it works is pretty essential.

There are some excelent step by steps and tutorials on this forum it might be a good idea to have a look at those. One thing I always start with is greyscales, I did a small aricle on that which is here:


A step by step that uses that theory for a black and white portrait (keep in mind that this is how I do a prortrait, it's not the best and not the only method)


In regard to the paintings you posted.

I don't know what size they are so it's hard to say if you can do the detail requiered. Realism doe requier a good control of you airbrush though so if you notice you can't manage them it's back to dot's and lines. There is no way around it you'llhave to learn to walk before you can run.

In the paintings you posted the transitions are a bit harsh. To get natural transitions you'll need to build your transitions slowly and in a lot of layers . If you want something lghter don't spray a lot of opaque white, reduce your whitetill you can hardly see you apply it and than add layer upon layer till you have the desired gradation. This gives a lot more control and is a lot less prone to error. This also means it will probably take 10x as much work but realism takes time, there are no shortcuts.

I mentioned this in the herbie post. Never ever outline, its just not there in nature and instantly kills any realism you have going on.

The above is as always just my humble opinion, and I realise it may be a bit harsh, it's posted to help though not to put anyone down.:thumbsup:
it is harsh... i am also a trained artist too and hope my 3 years at collage and 20 years working taught me something in all honesty. so find a lot of that patronising. i appreciate im doing some stuff wrong but thats a bit over board in explaining harshly a lot of what i know already..it could be just the way it came across
it is harsh... i am also a trained artist too and hope my 3 years at collage and 20 years working taught me something in all honesty. so find a lot of that patronising. i appreciate im doing some stuff wrong but thats a bit over board in explaining harshly a lot of what i know already..it could be just the way it came across

Like I said I try to help/answer your question. I have no clue about your background in art/ painting and only have what you posted to go on so I write it down as if the reader has no prior knowledge.

Love that pencil portrait by the way :)
Im also trying to get portraits right at the min and agree that its a tuff job. In regards to what haasje has written, this man is a master at what he does, and a very modest one at that, if i were you i would soak every word of his advice up and learn from it, his advice has helped me and a lot of others on here a great deal. I know 100% he wouldnt be patronising in the slightest.
Never get offended by good advice is something i always try and go with [emoji6]

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@bex, please don't take offense at what @haasje dutchairbrush has said, it looks as though he was typing up his lengthy post just as you posted that you had years of experience. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body and wouldn't have meant to upset you.
you did state that 'any advice was welcome' so that is exactly what you got :)

Its not easy keeping track of what experience each member has, and offering advice accordingly. There are many masters of their craft on here and they will often 'over explain' what they are trying to convey with the assumption that the poster has no / minimal knowledge, and can sometimes sound like they are trying to teach others to suck eggs. They would also be aware that a lot of newbies will read every thread in hope of learning something.

You are learning a new tool and techniques and that will take time, even with your prior knowledge and often it may be something 'simple' that makes it all come together.
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I'm still trying to get to the point my pictures look real,looking at what you posted above i would say your going to dark to soon,and just trying to get it finished after the point you think your not doing it right,there's a point in most portraits where it looks like crap because the colors don''t look right or a shape looks wrong,At that point is when you have to beleave its right and keep going then and only then will you get to see how it will all come together in the end portrait
As HJ has posted stick to mono tone, lots of trans base to thin the paint down to avoid going to dark to quick. Check out Airbrush tutor videos and the step by steps on this forum. All my work is generally A4 so size is fine. Print the ref the same size as the work to lay on top to really see the rransistions
sorry haasje dutchairbrush :thumbsup: big hugs :) i was tiered and frustrated that my pictures hadn't gone anywhere near like i wanted them.. i think it frustrates me more the fact i do know all the stuff about - which way the light hits, that you dont outline around the edges and brake up likes, that you blend multiple shades or colours etc etc. and when i research this i get the same as what people are posting up which is the basics i know and i am just really annoyed i cant make it work.. so apologies i shouldn't have taken such offence - please be assured that was tiredness and a bad day getting to me..
it is one of those things i am just stood there thinking why cant i make it work! im going to scrap the two pieces i started and get bigger paper out and try again.. i will have a read through everything posted and see if i can make something click and work out where im going wrong. thanks everyone.
Sounds like you have a good understanding of the theory, my idea is if you can draw a realistic portrait you can airbrush one as in essence its very much the same idea, using an opaque base and then hitting with transparants is the easiest formula and essentially airbrushing a portrait well is just a assortment of specific technique..You know the techniques being basic dots and lines and if you can do a basic gradient then you should be able to attain very high realism but will let you in on a few secrets, well not secrets but just some basic things that will help
-details gotta be built in from the base up so things appear to sit in skin rather than be painted upon it. Every portrait can be done in 9 basic layers. They are the mapping layers- a light a medium and dark opaque base tone to suit the ref. This ends up looking like a flat portrait as its bsically just mapping the main lights and features in all 3 color shades. The detail layers, the next set of three layers is your detail layers and where things generally look horrible but working that flat tone portrait in a specific fasion of laying a slightly darker texture on a lighter base through your color sequence, so in the really dark area's you should be doing texture with the middle shade. the middle shade you do texture with the lighest shade towards the lights but introduce the darker texture over the middle tone for working into the darker area's. It looks messy but thats want realism wants..Then you can gently mist some of those area's back to soften or leave area's of texture, as things recede the texture is softer so more overspray or misting is applied..The final layers are the same skin color tones of light medium and dark but in transparent paints, this further brings the picture together and starts to bury the rough texture within the skin, some of these layers can also be done in opaque but you get there faster with transparents..and thats the basic technique or better known as a formula..I paint the exact same recipe every painting as it works for any realistic reference..

Second hint-paint bigger and make sure your transfer is as highly detailed as you want the finished piece, most people transfer the minimum and expect to be able to fill in the gaps, draw much more detailed references and think of it more like paint by numbers where each island of color and its shape is well represented before you even start, painting bigger also just makes life that little easier..In another post here I posted how to break an image down with a topographical and a posterizing filter, this helps you see those islands for the transfer. Might help to view that post also.

may help may not but when you have a spare 8 odd hours watch a tutorial I did in B&W that shows this layering method quite clearly including all the texture detailing needs etc.. Start in black and white, perfect that then move to color using the same recipe but just different or more steps..

Hope that helps a bit..Below is a playlist of a few videos that may indeed help more as a picture and how to achieve it cant be explained well in a small post

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right guys..

i went in the paint studio yesterday to think about doing something on realism but i turned back around and walked back out.... and left it another day.. :p.
i got this frustrated with my painting when i was trying true flames too.. and anyone whos got an artists block on anything they are trying out i really do know how you are feeling and sympathize..

i have read through everything everyone has said in a calm and collective manor, i have even re-rad through the basics that were getting me wound up the other day as im in a more understanding mood and determined to tackle this. so huge thanks to everyone whos posted help or advice to this moody artist. lol

i have scrapped the other two pics for now, ill probably paint over them at some point.. and i have drawn out an A4 portrait.. i have made the face fill the space of the paper. i think the details are big enough for me to airbrush and get the realism.. its all hand drawn and i'm a little rusty at that.. i have tried to put guide lines in for highlights color differences and shadows.. it maybe too heavily drawn for the airbrush to cover all the pencil lines but i thought this would be a good starting point for me. so if a few are visible i will work on that on the next attempt. if this was to be a pencil sketch i'd be rubbing out the guidelines and blending and shading way before i got to this stage... but i have taken this right back to basics and am possibly over the top with guide lines..
gonna go airbrush some paint on it now...
Hey bex, don't get hung up on it, realism is a tricky thing to master and takes time, or if you want to get there quick and can afford it take a course with Marissa or Dru, those guys are two of the best in that field.
There is a lot of great advice already given from a couple of the top guys on this forum also. The airbrush is just another tool like a pencil or paintbrush, but being a mechanical tool it does require time to master it so do not be dismayed.
Understanding your AB , paints and pressures is crucial as well as mastering control, you obviously have the skills and understanding of other mediums which suggests that when it clicks with the AB you will knock it out of the park!
Maybe try just doing parts of a face like an eye or mouth etc instead of a whole portrait first, just focus on the shapes and values, don't look at an eye as an eye, break it down into different shapes. When you think you have this nailed then start worrying about the details and textures.
One of the most important things to remember when achieving realism is to only paint what you see, and the better the reference pictures quality the easier that will be....oh and plenty of patience!!
You will get the mate, just practice practice and push yourself by all means but don't Beat yourself up, we have all been there(and I'm still there most of the time) but above all try to have fun with it, it's just a tool......and I will be if you find this patronising haha.:laugh:

Just spreading the love:)
The guidelines are fine, to many is never enough as you'll cover most of it with opaque layers a few shades in anyway but avoid messing up your lights to much but when ready just erase to dd more texture and soften any left over lines. I did forget to mention in the last post to do your first layers at a fair distance, creates a wealt of overspray that can also be erased into for more texture affects in the lighter ranges, plus the distance will create a better blended base to use. Texture we get close and then move back again for transparents..Good luck and sure you will nail it, just think of it as a complicated drawing.
I think the hardest thing for me, even having years of experience using various mixed media (pen, pencil, marker, watercolor, etc), was overcoming symbol drawing.

For example; I've probably drawn thousands of eyes in my life, but I would always have difficulty drawing them in hyper realism because too often I failed to continuously check my reference. Primarily because "I already know how to draw an eye", "Ive drawn thousands of eyes", "I can draw them in my sleep". So when I start drawing the eye, just I keep going, forgetting to stop and check my reference and drawing it from what I 'think' they look like. This honestly has ruined the realism in some of my art (if you check my gallery in line art, my Emma picture is a great example of how symbol drawing can ruin realism).

With airbrushing, the need to constantly check a reference becomes even more critical. Because of this, I try very hard to shut off my brain and completely ignore what I am drawing. Its no longer an eye... beacuse I already know how to draw those. Instead, its just a collection of shapes; a line here, a triangle here, a sphere there, a black splotch in this shape over there, a dagger stroke, a fade... etc etc. I try to break down everything and work at it one area of shapes at a time. More importantly, I try to force myself to check the reference every few seconds.

Outside of that, the only recommendation I can give is to just keep practicing trigger control. Lines, dots, fades, daggers, and rinse wash and repeat. That's something that just takes time. Even with months of practice I still have lots of work to do to get anywhere close to some of the people on this site.

You're doing amazing so far, so don't give up! We are all looking forward to seeing your journey. :)