This week members of the life drawing society I belong to were able to take part in a workshop by Alex Tzavaras painting a portrait from life using oils. We used the Zorn palette, a very simplified set of colours that work well for skin tones: titanium white, ivory black, cadmium red and yellow ochre.

Alex is an excellent teacher who emphasises starting a painting with simple tonal blocks to lock in an accurate drawing, and then refining them to get a more realistic finish. It’s a really useful way to work and great to have a chance to practice.

The first day we began by watching Alex demo painting a portrait in the morning, then spent the afternoon creating a ‘thumbnail’ portrait approximately 2 inches high so that we would be familiar with the colours we’d mixed for painting up a larger painting the following day.

I was late to get to my easel so got a spot painting the model in profile. I was quite happy, as I loved the dramatic lighting on her face.

The process for the painting was as follows:

  1. Drawing the outline of the face and position of the features
  2. Shading in the dark tone
  3. Adding the highlights
  4. Regining the detail


The next day I switched to the opposite side of the room and painted the opposite profile view. It was much more difficult as I was in a very dark corner and was struggling to see colour on my palette, and the light was flooding the side of the model’s cheek meaning it was really difficult to make out tone to model the shape and very easy to overdo the tonal modelling and make the painting look cartoonish.

The process was the same for this second portrait, and although it was more of a struggle I was happy with the composition.

Here are the finished paintings together:

I practiced the following day but I didn’t have as long with my sitter (husband watching the rugby)


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