Monday, March 25, 2019

Portrait Painting Tip #4: See the forest, not the trees

Every lesson I share on my blog, I have learned from my teacher Za Vue. This quote and the whole philosophy of this post is one of the most valuable lesson I've come to understand recently. "See the forest, not the trees". So what does that mean? Very simply put, it means to keep the big picture in sight  at all times and not get caught up in the details. 

Nicolai Fechin
Stepping back and looking at the big picture can help us spot errors at every stage of the painting process. So the whole painting process becomes a series of problem solving actions. 

Seeing the big picture will help you get a better likeness because you can judge the overall shape of the face, the height to width ratio of the face and the proportion of the neck and shoulders to the face. 

When you step back and look at the values, you can clearly tell if all of your light shapes fall into one value mass and shadow shapes into another mass. (See Portrait Painting Tip #2)

When we stare into a particular area intensely, our sense of color dies. We start seeing browns and ochre's. When we step back and look at the whole we begin to see beautiful colors belonging to the different hues of the wheel (yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green)

Sometimes when we are painting the portrait, we forget about composition. But the negative space around the head is just as important. The shape, color and value of it should contribute to the overall interest of the painting. Stepping back will help you judge the impact of the space around your figure (is it too little, too much, too equal on different sides, how is the value, color?).  

Lastly, edges is such a huge topic but stepping back will help you see what edges are catching attention and you can intentionally manipulate them to move the eye around the painting. 

To summarize, 5 reasons to step back and see the big picture.
  1. Drawing 
    • Height to width ratio
    • Alignment of features
    • Shape of the face and proportion to head/neck
  2. Value masses (light/shadow)
  3. Color
  4. Composition
  5. Edges
Yong Hong Zhong
Remember to evaluate each of the 5 points throughout the painting process. When you step back, remember to look at your subject as a whole as well as your painting.

So next time, take a step back and admire the forest. Don't get caught up in the trees or worse yet the branches.

PS: I am organizing a weekly single pose model session on Wednesdays from 2:30-5:30pm at ColorsArt, 270 E Main St, Hillsboro. Price is $15.Please email me at if interested. RSVP is appreciated.

Also See Portrait Painting Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3