Painting the Head in Oil

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Dust jacket notes: "'I cannot think of anything more difficult, or more fascinating, than attempting to paint an impression of a human being, in oils, in one sitting.' John Howard Sanden is a master of this technique, and here – in a book based on his famous demonstration/lecture series at the Art Students League of New York – he shows you, step by step, exactly how to achieve a startling likeness in a single painting session. Sanden begins by discussing the materials you will need and the colors you will use. He explains the basics of drawing the head – angles, mapping, plumbing, positive and negative shapes, perspective, measuring and relating the features. Next, Sanden explains how to use values – lights and darks – to define the planes of the face. Then, in a chapter on color, Sanden shares his own method of mixing and tubing the paints used for the flesh tints; in this way, the painter has a complete range of flesh colors at his fingertips without having to mix them each time he needs them. After an orientation chapter devoted to the principles of painting procedure, the author invites you to look over his shoulder as he demonstrates how to paint the components of a portrait: the eyes, the nose, and upper face, including a demonstration of how to paint eyeglasses; the mouth chin, neck, and ears, including how to paint facial hair and the teeth in a smiling mouth; and various skin tones and hair types. Then Sanden puts the parts of a portrait together and shows you how to plan and execute a complete portrait. Step-by-step demonstrations of finished portraits, each step reproduced in full color, illustrate the painting process from start to finish." Includes 42 full-color plates and 90+ black and white illustrations, with bibliography and index.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Watson-Guptill; 1st edition (January 1, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0823036405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0823036400
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds

Customer Reviews

This is the oil portrait painting bible.

34 people found this helpful.
 on February 18, 1999
Whether a beginner or experienced oil painter, this is a must-have book for your art techniques library. Sanden begins with general oil painting information about materials and equipment. He reviews his color palette in detail, discussing warms and cools, earth colors, and mixing your own flesh tints. He covers the basics of drawing the head and then talks about value, light, halftone, and shadow. Sanden’s in depth color review includes hue, value and intensity, color mixing recipes and charts which you can make on canvas paper to keep for future reference. He shows you how to set up your palette, and gives clear and concise step-by-step painting instructions. After a review of general painting procedures, he paints (with examples) the head, including the mouth, teeth, chin, ears, forehead, hair, eyes, eyeglasses, and nose. Explanations are very clear and easy to follow. Lastly, he tells you how to capture the essence of your sitter. There are several color examples of his work throughout the book, as well as, black and white ones. He also discusses dark flesh tones, sitters attire, and the background. He encourages the painter to reduce the portrait into five parts: the light side of the face, the dark side of the face, the hair, the costume, and the background; to simplify. I use this book with my oil painting classes.

most instructional oil painting portrait book i have read

16 people found this helpful.
 on April 2, 1999
this book gives you step by step instruction and teaches the basics as well as advanced ways to get portraits the way they should be. it includes the artist’s palette and pictures of demostrations. he explains the colors of his palette as well as showing you how to make it with a chart for future reference. The darks, shadows , and light, the way in which he uses it to get the true illusion of 3 dimensional picture. i recommend this book to all artist alike.

Portraiture Painting – one very successful man’s method

2 people found this helpful.
 on November 14, 2014
By NovicePlus
This book was, I believe, the first published by Sanden – the first printing was 1976. I recently purchased the book used to see if I might develop a few skills to improve on my efforts at portraiture. I found the text full of detail and philosophy on painting. For this novice painter it was a bit overwhelming at first; however, with repeated readings and practice the text became a good guide for developing painting and portraiture skills. In addition to the attention to drawing, brush stroke and painting instruction, I found most useful the detail given to the palette of colors used by the author. Here he describes in detail his formulation for the Pro Mix Color System – a set of colors now commercially available but well within the novices ability to mix from basic colors found in their own paint box. I plan to keep this book in my library for I find myself repeatedly returning to it for instruction and inspiration.


4 people found this helpful.
 on April 1, 2011
By Likes_Books
I’ve only started to go through the book, but I can see already that it will prove helpful. It is a nice companion to his 29-steps book on portrait painting. Many of the images in this book are in black and white. I find this doesn’t bother me at all because it helps to see the tonality.

Beautiful and well written – excellent addition to the artist’s library

3 people found this helpful.
 on May 19, 2011
By J. L. Powell
This is an excellent and really not all that advanced book on painting portraits. It is not for beginners in art but if you have a good foundation in drawing etc you will find this very instructive and easy to understand. I really like how he shows you how to set up your palette, and the demos are very clear and simple to understand.

Highly Recommend

2 people found this helpful.
 on June 11, 2014
By Peggy S.
This book is excellent for showing you how to mix flesh tones for light, medium and dark comlexions. It also teaches , step by step how paint the lights, shadows, and highlights. Finally, this books gives excellent close up photos so that you can see brush strokes. Highly recommend for beginner or advanced painters.

excellent instruction book for portraiture

3 people found this helpful.
 on March 11, 2010
By Richard D. Price
I’m not sure why this book is still out of print. The dated look is to be expected, but the advice is rock solid and will never change, As a painter, this book has changed my perspective on portraiture for sure.

Highly Recommend!

7 people found this helpful.
 on May 11, 2002
This is one of the best, most thorough books on Portrait Painting. I especially benefited from the information on color mixing for the various skin tones, which I have seen in other books, but his is more in-depth. I won’t let my book go!

Painting the Head in Oil

3 people found this helpful.
 on September 29, 2005
By Alfred C. Laoang
A wonderful and informative book by John Howard Sanden describing his techniques used in painting the Head (portrait) in oil. I thank amazon for such a quick and fast way in acquiring the kind of books that take so much of my time searching by car.

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