Learn to draw and paint portraits

Lesson 14: Creative Process Redux

portrait painting oil art class

Michael Britton, Monique, 11x14", Oil on Panel, 2021

Monique had had a difficult birth. I really didn't know what to do with her. Other than knowing that I did not want to render just another academic portrait.

There is a surfeit of finely wrought academic paintings. And frankly they bore me to tears. I demand more of paintings than mere technical excellence.

On the other hand I would rather endure a root canal with a splintery toothpick than have to gaze upon another painting whose author lacks even the most rudimentary drawing and painting skills.

Miss a lesson?

#1: Intro and Notes on Drawing

#2: Unity

#3: Elements of Composition

#4: Architecture of Design

#5: Beginning a Painting

#6: Color Harmonies

#7: Creative Process | Pochade

#8: Creative Process 2 | Watercolor Study of A Young Girl

#9: Getting the BIG Shape

#10: A Walk in a Frozen Wood

#11: Drawing Hands

#12: Drawing the Skull

#13: Velazquez: Alla Prima

#14: Creative Process - Redux

#15: The Power of Triangles

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Herein lay the conundrum of our sad little era. I deeply believe in the necessity of having a solid foundational skill set. But to what extent? At what point is the art lost in the pursuit of ever finer rendering?

I wish I had the answers. Even a few answers would be nice.

These days, as a painter, I am flying by the seat of my pants, feeling my way through a bramble of anguished ambiguities. My painting days are often an additive/subtractive process of two steps forward and one step back.

At one particularly demoralized stage Monique was completely stripped down, the paint, including what I thought were some particularly brilliant brush strokes, my 'darlings', ruthlessly obliviated. All that remained was a ghost.

It had to be done though. Monique needed to be murdered. My palette knife was honored with the dastardly task of scraping down the paint. This wasn't my first murder; I knew that I had to be careful not to gouge too deeply; mustn't carve into the gesso and the panel. And sandpaper is to be avoided at all cost. It can leave a slick surface that will repel any attempt to paint back in and cover up the evidence of my ill-deed.

Often the catalyst for murdering a painting is poor drawing. Monique was innocent in that regard. However her guilt was two-fold. First was a disappointing figure/ground relationship. It simply wasn't working out. It struck me as puerile and contrived. An unforgiveable sin, a sin that readily aroused my homicidal instincts.

Compounding her misdeeds was an awkward and overly wrought abstract structural surface. I found her ASS repellent.

She had to be murdered. There was no other way.

Michael Britton

Pochade for portrait painting

A Pochade is a generally a small thumbnail sketch, usually around 8 x 10". It is in the Pochade that the big idea is worked out: the arrangement of major shapes, the color harmonies, and the considered treatment of the abstract structural surface.

On the left is all that remains of pre-murdered Monique. My original pochade. Sure, I knew there were issues here, some annoying qualities, but I ignored the red flags confident that they could be resolved. Well, they couldn't. The relationship soured. Spiteful recriminations were uttered. Some regrettable but most deservedly well-put.

The creative process is very much like peeling an onion. One layer leads to another. Trite and banal ideas are disposed of. With luck a core is found that resonates with meaning and engages your audience with a common bond. Admittedly that doesn't come easily.

I most assuredly did not want to fall back onto a traditonal academic background. I have more pride than that. And frankly such an expediency is intellectual sloth. Oh, I know, I know ... harsh words.

On the right is the pochade for Monique's resurrection. It infers both the graffiti of Basquiat and ponderance of Velazquez. Which is okay. There is nothing new under the sun. The development of one's voice is incremental. One difficult step after another, a journey deep into the tulip field of marvelous discoveries.


I studied with Michael for 4 years in Vancouver when he had the Vancouver Academy of Art. Micheal offered several courses including composition using euclidian geometry, color theory, drawing with graphite and sanguine, and painting the figure and portrait with watercolor. I took every available course during those four years. I have never had a teacher before or since who was able to impart a system of detailed learning including every stage to accomplish a finished work. Years have passed and I was easily able to translate the watercolor studies to oil which I believe gave me a unique advantage in understanding how to keep color vibrant and applying paint in a conscious approach. I still use all the information that Michael passed on from his years of studying in NYC. The information is solid and practical which always grounds my work in structure, composition, and color.

Vancouver, Canada

Upcoming 2021 Virtual Art Classes via ZOOM

Painting Portraits in Oil | Foundation to Bravura

Oil painting art class

Michael Britton, Monique, Oil on Panel, 11x14", 2021

In this five-session workshop you will learn how to paint a dynamic portrait in oil from a photograph.

The language of the photograph is different from that of painting. In this workshop you will learn the process of how to translate the photographic image into a painting that is much more than a mere copy of the photograph.

You will learn how to accurately block-in the big shape before fixing the facial proportions to establish both your composition and the likeness.

Learn how to construct value structures to render three-dimensional form and the practice of spotting color notes mix accurate flesh tones that breath life.

The full course description and materials list.

Materials List

Saturday, 10:00 - 1:00
Pacific Standard Time
September 18 to October 16, 2021
5 Sessions


'I've learnt more from your online workshops than I have from my previous face to face courses combined and at a fraction of the cost. Your teaching is comprehensive, yet clear and engaging.'

P. Delaney
Sydney, Australia

Practice of Mixing Flesh Tones

The Practice of Mixing Flesh Tones & Spotting Color Notes

The Newest Release by Michael Britton

No more chalky and lifeless portraits! In this 6 hours and 45 minutes download video workshop you will learn step-by-step the time-tested principles of mixing fleshtones that breath life and emotion.

With each guided exercise your skill and understanding of mixing flesh tones will deepen as you learn the practice of juxtaposing cool and warm hues with tint, tone, shade and complementaries.

And that's only the first part of this indepth six hours and 45 minutes workshop. The second part teaches you how to apply the paint and develop your own expressive brushwork and voice. Spotting color notes is an elegant and dynamic process of painting. It is the method of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Manet, Wyeth, etc.