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3 Fun Ways to Inject Personality Into Your Portrait Paintings

The painted portrait is just as popular today as it has been all throughout history. From the Mona Lisa to the self-portrait you probably created in painting class, portraits are everywhere.

I’ve painted my own share of portraits, and have found that injecting a little fun into this process can really enhance the painting and capture the personality of your subject. Here are 3 of my favorite ways to add fun and interest to a typical portrait painting:

1. Work from candid photos

We’ve all done the “look into the mirror at a 3/4 angle self-portrait” and probably the straight on, school photo, full smile portrait, but it is time to move beyond those and think about capturing a moment. People are just so much more natural when they are not posing for a photo!

So, try to keep a camera handy and try to capture shots of your subject in their own environment, or doing something they enjoy. For example, I painted this portrait when this young girl was very focused on painting details on a birdhouse. . .


She obviously wasn’t paying any attention to me or my camera, and as a result, I was able to get a moment of calm concentration that makes this portrait so unique to her.

2. Make a silly face

Most of the time people want to look good in a photo or portrait. They will usually smile and hold their head a certain way to show their “good” side. However, try asking your subject to make a silly face or some emotion like angry or sad and see what happens.

Kids are great for this because they will not hesitate to make a face. Personality and giggles will typically follow this request leading to great, one of a kind reference photos that will make a great portrait.


As a bonus, you may also find yourself laughing a bit while you paint!

3. Create a character

This one is my favorite—give your models a variety of costumes, glasses, scarves, hats, etc. and watch them transform into original, interesting characters right before your eyes.


This can also be a great help if your subject is a little shy or nervous in front of the camera. The results are wonderful and fun, and again, make great reference photos.


These are just a few of the ideas I’ve tried to make portrait painting more fun and interesting for me as well as my models. Never be afraid to come up with your own, and see what happens. When you get a little creative, you can’t go wrong!

Happy painting!

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Recently I've had several conversations with other artists about dry pastels, and found that many of them think pastels are a fairly difficult medium to use, due to their “permanent” nature.

While it’s true that the bright pigments of soft pastels are durable and long-lasting, there are still quite a few ways to correct mistakes or make changes as you go. The following three tips. . . read more

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