Open Studio Online Classes Portrait

These Open Studio Online Classes are supported by Sligo Leader Partnership Company as part of the delivery of the Social Inclusion Community Activation Programme (SICAP)

Project No. 2

Portrait of President Michael D. Higgins

Class start date: Tuesday 28th July at 11.30am

Remaining classes Friday 31st July

Tuesday 4th August

Friday 7th August

Tuesday 11th August

Friday 14th August

Tuesday 18th August

Friday 21st August

Michael D Higgins


The first thing we must do is to choose an appropriate canvas.

My suggestion for this painting is to use a 40cm x 30cm (16″ x 12″) canvas or canvas board as a portrait should never exceed the span of your thumb and middle finger.

Please make sure you purchase a quality canvas from an art shop

Divide this canvas into 12 areas, each area 10cm square (4″square).

When drawing the grids on canvas please use a pencil 4B, 5B, 6B as this encourages you not to lean on your pencil, sketching very lightly bearing in mind that these guide lines will have to be removed before we begin painting especially in the brighter areas.

4:3 Grid

Please repeat this on your photograph ensuring that you keep a 4;3 division here on your working photograph as well as on the canvas

Divisions on Working Photograph Including one Subdivision

As you may notice on above working photograph of mine, I have subdivided more demanding areas that I think I may need extra help from.

If you are doing this please ensure that you do this one at a time so as to not over complicated things.

Please keep all pencil lines light during sketching stages


When your sketch is finished it will now be time to start inking your pencil lines. Please use a little Burnt Sienna and some white spirit. (If using acrylic paint then substitute the white spirit with water) and mix in a jam jar lid until it is of a watery consistency (not too watery and not to thick)

Mixing paint with White Spirits on Jam Jar lid


Now paint over your pencil lines with the ink using your smallest round head sable brush.

When dipping the brush in to the ink please make sure to scoop off excess ink about 2-3 times on side of the lid before applying as this will prevent ink running down the canvas.

Preliminary Shetch with Ink

We are going to use a dark background. The colours that I’ve chosen are French Ultramarine Blue, Raw Umber and Crimson Alizeron.

Keep the background fairly dark but fuse in the Raw Umber and Crimson in different areas to create added interest to it

Background and Clothing

Now concentrate on the clothing.

Before you start please note the folds, shadows, and the light and dark tones.

I began by lightly painting a light blue base coat using Coeurilium Blue with White on both sides of the suit.

Slowly start to add the darker colours. I chose to use French Ultramarine Blue with various mixes with Raw Umbers depending on how dark I needed it to be.

The shirt begins with a light basecoat of Coeurilium Blue with White. Some soft and not so soft folds can be observed here.

Slowly add a little French Ultramarine Blue as you need to darken fold areas. White highlights are also added to edges such as the collar areas.

We will be revisiting this area again during the final touch-up stages.


Spread Out Palette

Try to identify as many colours on your working photograph and place and spread them on your palette.

The main colours that I have used here are Burnt Sienna, White and Burnt Umber. Other colours that are required are Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, and a little Raw Sienna.


Applying the Colours

Place the various colours on the different parts of the forehead and face. I’ve decided to start with the forehead as it’s the least challenging part of the image.

What ever colours you may need as you advance with this painting can all be found in this area and may be referenced and reproduced in the more challenging areas ahead.

Moving Down

Keep applying your colours from your spread out palette . This painting contains lines and shades. For example his mouth is a shadow, darkest in the middle and toning in gently to the lips.

I’ve used Raw Umber for the darker mouth shadow and Crimson and White as this dark shadow approaches the lips.

Keep an eye on the brighter shadows and especially on the highlights

Getting There

We will of course be re-visiting certain aspects of this painting at the touch-up stages, his hair and tie for example, nearer the end of the painting.


Finishing Touches

This is the finished article everyone. I hope you enjoyed painting the President.

See you at our next Zoom Class