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Steve Greaves

Photorealism Painting

Techniques & Methods

Carly, Portrait of an Art Student - Painting Tutorial

Steve Greaves - Carly - photorealism portrait painting


1. The Reference Photograph

Steve Greaves - Carly - reference photograph for photorealism portrait painting

Carly Reference Photo (light version)


The reference photo for Carly - Photorealism

portrait painting was taken with an old battered 

Olympus 35mm SLR film camera with a 50mm lens

using Ilford FP4 black and white film.


It was taken in a white painted room with 

flourescent lighting. A single tungsten spotlight 

was used to give highlights and strong contrasts.


The photo was developed and printed in

a school darkroom using the most basic 

of materials and equipment. Two 10" x 8"

prints were made, each with a different 

exposure to show details in both the 

highlights and the lowlights.


The lighter print was scanned and then 

inkjet printed onto A2 size photo quality 

matt paper.



2. Drawing / Copying & Transferring the Image

Steve Greaves - Carly - drawing for photorealism portrait painting

Carly - Drawing - enlarge


The drawing of Carly ready to be transferred 

onto the gesso primed board. The

composition has been changed 

to a more powerful square format.


The image was copied onto A2 transparent acetate 

with a fine pigment pen - then from that onto A2

tracing paper using the same pen. Then the

image was redrawn on the back with a soft (2B)



Finally the image was traced through the 

paper onto the gesso primed board using a hard

(6H) pencil. Tracing is not an easy option. It can 

take days of intense accurate drawing to transfer 

a detailed image.


Pigment pens are used on the acetate and tracing 

papers but the image is always laid down onto the 

support in pencil. A putty rubber is used to remove 

any excess pencil marks.

3. Painting & Painting Materials

Steve Greaves - Carly - photorealism portrait painting after 3 painting sessions

Carly - Photorealism Portrait Painting in progress

The painting after 3 painting sessions (detail)


The support used for this painting is hardboard

(masonite) which was roughly sanded on the 

smooth side to give it a key and then given 6 

coats of white acrylic gesso using random 

brush strokes. The surface was left un-sanded 

though small blobs were removed with a sharp


Steve Greaves - Carly - photorealism portrait painting after 10 painting sessions

Carly - Photorealism Portrait Painting in Progess

The painting after 10 painting Sessions (detail)


The painting was built up gradually using thin

layers of Payne's Grey acrylic paint mixed with white.

It was painted using a size 3 Winsor & Newton 

Sceptre Gold brush and took 31 painting sessions 

to complete making a total of around 50 hours.

4. Framing the Painting

Steve Greaves - Carly - framed photorealism portrait painting

Carly - Photorealism Portrait Painting - Framed


The Carly portrait painting is framed very simply with 

2 x 2 ins rough sawn timber which is butt-joined and screwed

at the corners. Small metal L-shaped brackets are glued to the 

back of the board, and screwed into the frame to hold 

the painting in place.

The picture frame is painted satin black which gives a

contemporary feel and hints at Japanese simplicity.


There is a balance  between form and emptiness 

in the painting, and a contrast between the texture 

of the frame and the subtlety of the image.



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