Acrylic Portrait Tips: How to Acrylic Paint a Face

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 15 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Acrylic painting is a popular medium for creating lifelike portraits. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, learning how to acrylic paint a face opens up a world of possibilities for creating realistic and stunning artworks. In this article, we will provide you with step-by-step guidance on acrylic painting techniques specifically tailored for painting faces. From choosing the right brushes to adding the finishing touches, we’ll cover everything you need to know to create beautiful acrylic portraits.

Key Takeaways

  • Acrylic painting offers a versatile medium for creating lifelike portraits.
  • The choice of brushes is crucial for achieving different effects and details in facial features.
  • Prepare your painting workspace with essential supplies like water, a palette, and paper towels.
  • Sketching the face before painting helps maintain correct proportions.
  • Mixing the right skin tone requires experimentation and attention to detail.

Mastering the art of acrylic portraiture takes time and practice. With the right techniques and a bit of creativity, you can create stunning acrylic paintings that capture the essence of a face. Let’s dive into the world of acrylic portrait painting and discover the endless possibilities it offers.

Choosing the Right Brushes for Acrylic Portrait Painting

When it comes to painting a face with acrylics, having the right brushes is crucial. You’ll need a variety of brush sizes to work on different areas of the face.

Larger brushes are best for covering large areas of the skin and hair, while smaller brushes are perfect for adding details to the eyes and lips. Consider investing in a selection of brushes with varying sizes, from small rounds to large flats, to ensure you have the right tool for every part of the face.

But size isn’t the only consideration when it comes to choosing brushes. The type of hair used in the brushes also plays a significant role in the final effect of your painting.

Bristle brushes are known for their stiff bristles and are ideal for creating bold, textured strokes. They work well for achieving an impressionist style in your portrait.

Sable brushes have soft and flexible bristles, allowing you to create smooth, blended strokes. These brushes are perfect for achieving a more realistic look with subtle transitions of color.

By having a combination of brush sizes, materials, and shapes, you can paint with precision and achieve your desired results. Experiment with different brushes to discover which ones suit your painting style best.

Having the right brushes is essential for creating stunning acrylic portraits. They allow you to control your brushstrokes, capture fine details, and achieve the desired texture in your painting. Invest in a good set of brushes and experiment with different sizes and materials to find the ones that work best for you.

“The right brush can make all the difference in your acrylic portrait painting. It’s like having the perfect tool to bring your vision to life on canvas.”

With the right brushes in hand, you can confidently tackle the next step in your acrylic portrait painting journey: preparing your painting workspace.

Brush Size Brush Material Ideal for
Large Flats Bristle Covering large areas of the skin and hair
Small Rounds Sable Adding details to the eyes and lips

Preparing Your Painting Workspace

Before you start painting a face with acrylics, it’s important to set up your workspace properly. By organizing your materials and tools, you can create a conducive environment for your artistic process. Here are some essential steps to prepare your painting workspace:

Gather Your Supplies

Make sure to have all the necessary supplies within reach. This includes acrylic paints, paintbrushes of various sizes, a palette, a cup of water, a spray bottle, and a paper towel. Having these essentials on hand will allow you to work efficiently and keep your paints in the right consistency.

Arrange Your Workspace

Clean and clear your workspace to create a clutter-free zone. Having a clean and organized area will help you focus on your painting without distractions. Set up your palette, brushes, and paints in a way that is convenient and accessible to you.

Prepare Your Water Cup and Spray Bottle

Fill a cup with water to clean your brushes when switching colors. This will prevent unwanted color mixing and ensure your colors remain vibrant and true. Additionally, have a spray bottle filled with water to mist your paints and keep them moist. Acrylic paints tend to dry quickly, so spraying some water on them will extend their workability.

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Are Acrylic Paints Water Based? Quick Facts!

Use a Clean Palette

A clean palette is essential for mixing your paints accurately. Make sure to use a palette that is large enough for your color mixing needs. You can use a traditional artist palette or even a disposable palette pad. Remember to clean your palette after each painting session to avoid contaminating your colors.

Keep a Paper Towel Handy

Having a paper towel nearby is useful for drying off excess water from your brushes or blotting paint as needed. It’s also handy for wiping your hands during the painting process to keep your artwork clean.

By following these steps and preparing your painting workspace, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable acrylic painting experience. The organization, accessibility, and cleanliness of your workspace play a significant role in your artistic process, allowing you to focus on creating beautiful and detailed portrait paintings.

Sketching the Face

Before applying paint to the canvas, it’s important to sketch the outlines of the face. Whether you’re painting a self-portrait or using a reference photo, lightly use a pencil to draw the different features of the face, including the eyes, eyebrows, nose, and lips. This preliminary sketch will serve as a guide when applying the paint and will help maintain the correct proportions of the face. Avoid shading and focus on creating clear, defined outlines.

The Importance of Facial Feature Sketching

Sketching the face before painting is essential in capturing the realistic and accurate facial features. By outlining the eyes, eyebrows, nose, and lips, you can establish the foundation of the portrait. These initial lines will guide your strokes and ensure that the proportions of the face are well-maintained. While sketching, it’s vital to focus on the precision of your outlines, avoiding any shading at this stage.

Facial Features Sketching Tips
Eyes Begin with a light oval shape and lightly sketch the iris, pupil, and eyelashes. Pay attention to the spacing and shape of the eyes in relation to the rest of the face.
Eyebrows Outline the general shape of the eyebrows, noting any arches or angles. Keep in mind that eyebrows vary in thickness and shape, so observe your reference closely.
Nose Start by drawing the bridge of the nose, then lightly sketch the nostrils and flare of the nose. Observe the angle and size of the nose in relation to the rest of the face.
Lips Outline the shape of the upper and lower lips, paying attention to any curves or symmetry. You can lightly indicate the creases and corners of the mouth as well.

Remember, sketching is the foundation of a successful painting. Take your time and be patient in creating accurate outlines. This initial step will set the stage for the realistic portrayal of facial features in your painting.

Mixing the Right Skin Tone

Achieving the right skin tone is crucial for creating a realistic portrait. Start by selecting a color palette that includes Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, and Alizarin Crimson. Mix these colors together on your palette, experimenting with different ratios until you achieve the desired skin tone. You can add more yellow for a warmer tone or more blue for a cooler tone. It’s important to continuously compare the mixed color to the subject’s natural skin tone and adjust accordingly. Remember to only squeeze out enough paint for immediate use, as acrylics dry quickly.

“Achieving the right skin tone is crucial for creating a realistic portrait.”

When it comes to painting portraits, capturing the skin tone accurately is essential for bringing your subject to life. By mixing the right colors and mastering blending techniques, you can achieve a lifelike complexion that adds depth and realism to your paintings. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to mix the right skin tone:

  1. Start with a basic color palette that includes Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, and Alizarin Crimson. These colors will serve as the foundation for creating a wide range of skin tones.
  2. Begin by squeezing a small amount of each color onto your palette.
  3. Experiment with different ratios of the colors to create variations of skin tones. Start with a base mix of Titanium White and a touch of Cadmium Yellow Light to create a warm, pale tone.
  4. To create a darker skin tone, gradually add small amounts of Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, and Alizarin Crimson to the mix. Adjust the ratios until you achieve the desired shade.
  5. Use a palette knife or a brush to thoroughly blend the colors together until you achieve a smooth, uniform mixture.
  6. Compare the mixed color to the subject’s natural skin tone and make any necessary adjustments by adding more of the base colors or modifying the ratios.
  7. Apply the mixed skin tone to the canvas, keeping in mind the light source and any shadows or highlights within the portrait.
  8. Blend the colors seamlessly using various blending techniques, such as dry brushing, glazing, or feathering, to create a natural transition between different areas of the face.
  9. Continuously evaluate and refine the skin tone as you work, making subtle adjustments as needed to maintain realism and capture the unique characteristics of the subject.

By practicing these blending techniques and experimenting with different color ratios, you can master the art of mixing the right skin tone for your acrylic portrait paintings.

Applying the Base Layer of Paint

Once you have mixed the right skin tone, it’s time to apply the base layer of paint to the face. This step is crucial in creating a realistic and dynamic portrait. Use a larger brush to fill in the outlines of the face with the base color, ensuring to cover all areas evenly.

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Pay close attention to the areas of the face that have varying shades, such as the areas of shadow and highlights. To add depth and dimension to your painting, mix black, white, and browns with the base color. Apply these variations accordingly, emphasizing the shadows and highlights in the correct places.

Remember that human skin is complex and consists of various tones. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shades and colors to capture the subtleties and intricacies of the face.

When applying the base layer, take your time and work with precision. Use smaller brushes for the more detailed areas, such as the eyes and lips, to ensure accuracy and attention to detail.

Building up the layers of paint gradually will result in a more realistic and lifelike portrait. Take breaks between layers and allow each layer to dry before proceeding to the next. This will prevent colors from blending unintentionally and help you achieve the desired effect.

Remember, creating a portrait is a step-by-step process that requires patience and practice. Don’t rush through this stage, as it forms the foundation for the rest of the painting.

Here’s a summarized step-by-step guide:

  1. Mix the right skin tone.
  2. Fill in the outlines of the face with the base color using a larger brush.
  3. Add black, white, and browns to create variations in shades for shadow and highlights.
  4. Use smaller brushes for more detailed areas like the eyes and lips.
  5. Build up layers gradually, allowing each layer to dry before proceeding.

Painting the Eyes

The eyes are a crucial aspect of a portrait, as they have the power to bring life and realism to your artwork. To create stunning eyes in your acrylic portrait, follow these step-by-step instructions:

Step 1: Filling in the Pupils

Begin by filling in the pupils of the eyes with black using a small brush. Take your time to ensure the pupils are evenly filled in and symmetrical.

Step 2: Outlining the Iris and Lash Lines

Next, using a fine brush, outline the iris and the lash lines around the eyes. This will add definition and depth to the eyes.

Step 3: Creating a Reflection Effect

To create a reflection effect, leave a small white dot in each pupil. This will make the eyes appear more realistic and lifelike.

Step 4: Mixing Colors for the Iris

Mix colors on your palette to match the subject’s eye color. Observe the subtle variations in hue and saturation and try to capture those nuances in your painting.

Step 5: Adding Shading and Highlights

To bring the eyes to life, add shading and highlights to the iris and other areas of the eyes. This will create dimension and depth, making the eyes appear more realistic.

Step 6: Capturing Unique Characteristics

Take your time to observe and capture the unique characteristics of the subject’s eyes, such as the shape, size, and any distinguishing features. These details will make the portrait more personalized and engaging.

By following these acrylic painting techniques, you can create captivating and expressive eyes in your portrait. Remember to practice, experiment, and adjust your techniques to achieve the desired effect.

Adding Detail to the Lips

The lips are another important feature to pay attention to when painting a face with acrylics. To create realistic-looking lips, follow these steps:

  1. Outline the bottom of the upper lip and the top of the lower lip with black. This will help define the shape of the lips.
  2. Blend colors together to achieve the subject’s lip tone. Use a combination of reds, pinks, and browns to capture the natural coloration of the lips.
  3. Add shading at the corners of the lips and highlights where necessary to create a three-dimensional effect. This will bring depth and dimension to the lips.
  4. If the subject’s mouth is open, add details to the teeth, gums, and corners of the mouth. Pay attention to the subtle shades and shapes within the mouth.

Remember to focus on subtle shading and blending techniques to create a realistic appearance. Take your time and observe the unique characteristics of the subject’s lips to capture their individuality.


“When adding detail to the lips, it’s important to consider the unique shape and coloration of the subject’s mouth. Pay attention to the curves, highlights, and shadows present in the lips. By carefully observing and replicating these details, you can create a lifelike representation of the subject’s lips.”

Lips Paint Colors

Lip Tone Color
Natural Mix of red, pink, and brown
Dark Deep red, maroon, and brown
Light Pale pink, peach, and beige

By following these techniques, you can add realistic detail to the lips and bring your acrylic portrait to life.

Painting the Nose and Hair

The nose and hair are crucial elements that require special attention when painting a portrait. Here are some techniques to help you master these features:


Start by filling in the nose with the base skin tone that you have mixed. Use a smaller brush to add shadows and highlights to create structure and dimension. Pay attention to any additional colors in the nose, such as a rosy hue at the tip, and incorporate them as needed. Remember to observe the subject closely and capture the unique characteristics of their nose.


Begin by applying the base color for the hair. Consider the subject’s hair texture and the direction it flows. Use varying brush sizes and materials to capture the different thicknesses of hair strands. Start with larger brushes to block in the basic shapes and then gradually add layers to create texture and movement. Observe any unique colors in the hair, such as highlights or undertones, and incorporate them to make the portrait more dynamic and realistic.

Acrylic Painting Techniques for Noses and Hair Description
Shadow and Highlight Add shadows and highlights to the nose to create depth and dimension. Use lighter shades for highlights and darker shades for shadows.
Texture and Movement For hair, vary brush sizes and materials to capture the different thicknesses of strands. Apply layers to create texture and movement in the hair.
Observation Observe the subject’s nose and hair closely, paying attention to colors, textures, and unique characteristics. Incorporate these details into your painting for a realistic portrayal.
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By utilizing these acrylic painting techniques, you can effectively capture the intricate details of the nose and hair in your portraits. Remember to practice and experiment with different brushstrokes and color combinations to achieve the desired results.

Adding the Finishing Touches and Background

Once you have painted the facial features, it’s time to add the finishing touches and the background. Using smaller brushes, you can focus on fine details and highlights to ensure that every aspect of the face is well-defined and realistic.

When choosing a background color, consider complementing or contrasting with the subject’s features to create visual impact. A harmonious background can enhance the overall mood of the painting, while a contrasting background can add intrigue and drama.

Pay attention to small details that can make a big difference in the final result. Adding subtle shadows, highlights, and textures can bring your portrait to life and make it truly captivating.

Remember, painting is not just about capturing a likeness; it’s about expressing emotions and telling a story through your art.

To illustrate the importance of the finishing touches and background, take a look at the example below:


Painting a face with acrylics can be a rewarding and captivating experience. By mastering the right techniques and following the step-by-step tutorial provided in this article, you can confidently embark on your journey to create lifelike portraits that capture the essence and uniqueness of your subjects.

Choosing the right brushes, mixing the appropriate skin tones, and paying attention to detail are vital aspects of creating realistic and stunning acrylic portrait paintings. Remember to experiment, practice, and persist, as these are the keys to unlocking your artistic potential and honing your skills.

With each painting, you will gain more insight, refine your technique, and develop your own artistic style. Be patient with yourself and trust the process. Acrylic painting is a versatile medium that allows you to express your creativity, evoke emotions, and tell stories through your portraits.

So gather your supplies, set up your workspace, and let your imagination soar. Embrace the joy of acrylic painting, and watch as your skills and confidence grow with each stroke of the brush. Start your journey today and unlock the fascinating world of acrylic portrait painting.


What brushes do I need for acrylic portrait painting?

You’ll need a variety of brush sizes, including larger brushes for covering large areas and smaller brushes for adding details to the eyes and lips. Bristle brushes create bold strokes, while sable brushes create smooth, blended strokes.

How should I set up my workspace for acrylic portrait painting?

Make sure to have a cup of water for cleaning brushes, a spray bottle of water to keep paints moist, a clean palette for mixing paints, and a paper towel for drying brushes.

Should I sketch the face before painting?

Yes, it’s important to lightly sketch the outlines of the face, including the eyes, eyebrows, nose, and lips, to serve as a guide when applying the paint.

How do I mix the right skin tone for a portrait?

Start with a color palette that includes Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, and Alizarin Crimson. Experiment with different ratios until you achieve the desired skin tone.

How do I apply the base layer of paint on the face?

Use a larger brush to fill in the outlines of the face with the base color, paying attention to areas of shadow and highlights. Gradually build up layers of paint using smaller brushes for detailed areas.

How do I paint realistic eyes?

Start by filling in the pupils with black, then outline the iris and lash lines. Mix colors to match the subject’s eye color and add shading and highlights for depth. Pay attention to unique characteristics of the subject’s eyes.

How do I add detail to the lips?

Outline the lips with black, then blend colors together to achieve the subject’s lip tone. Add shading and highlights for a three-dimensional effect. Pay attention to subtle shading for realism.

How do I paint the nose and hair?

Fill in the nose with the base skin tone and add shadows and highlights. Pay attention to additional colors in the nose. For the hair, start with the base color, then add layers for texture. Vary brush sizes for different hair thicknesses.

How do I add finishing touches and a background?

Use smaller brushes for fine details and highlights. Choose a background color that complements or contrasts with the subject’s features. Pay attention to small details that enhance the overall appearance.

What tips can you provide for acrylic portrait painting?

Choose the right brushes, mix the right skin tones, and focus on capturing the unique features of your subject. Practice and experimentation are key to improving your portrait painting skills.