It’s a Process to Paint a Portrait: Day 1 of Realism Live 2023

Enjoy a recap of Day 1 of the 4th Annual Realism Live, an unforgettable event for artists of all levels of painting in a realistic style. Realism Live is a virtual art conference taking place through November 11, so join us now or catch the replays at

Highlights from Day 1 of Realism Live

Jim McVicker began with a roughed-in version of a still life setup of sunflowers, developing the main subject first while also working on elements around the flowers. He explained that his lighting was a combination of his skylight and a second light to make the darks and lights stronger.

From Jim McVicker's still life painting lesson
From Jim McVicker’s still life painting lesson

Painting a portrait is a process; in this demo from Calvin Lai, he explained the process of going “from general to specific” as you progress. “In the beginning part of a painting, you don’t want to spend too much time rendering details,” Calvin said. Because this is the stage where you’re laying down the foundation, he explained how to simplify your subject matter into large areas of shapes, colors, and values to prepare you for the next stage of adding details.

Calvin Lai's portrait painting demo at Realism Live 2023
Calvin Lai’s portrait painting demo at Realism Live 2023

“So much of painting is trying to take complicated things and reducing them to the simplest of elements,” said Gavin Glakas. While he often paints en plein air, in this session he addressed how to create an architectural landscape in a studio setting.

A moment with Gavin Glakas
A moment with Gavin Glakas

Dan Thompson explained John H. Vanderpoel’s archetype of planes of the head in his demo, titled “Hatchmark and Head Planes.” The drawing he created was of a cast in graphite and dealt with the surface breakdown. He said the drawing attempts to “understand topographical head forms in space and interpret them through hatchmark.”

From Dan Thompson's demo on how to draw a face
From Dan Thompson’s demo on how to draw a face

Vicki Sullivan showed us her method of doing a grisaille, which is basically a black, white, and gray underpainting. She said this can be very useful because “it’s a beautiful way of getting very light, translucent colors if you have a pale subject.”

Vicki Sullivan, Realism Live 2023
Vicki Sullivan
From Vicki Sullivan's graphite drawing demonstration
From Vicki Sullivan’s graphite drawing demonstration

Cindy Baron demonstrated a landscape painting of coastal California. She said it was important to pay attention to the colors one is using along the way, and she explained her thought process so we could follow along well. One of her favorite colors is transparent red oxide because it gives her “the best rendition of the earth’s ground cover.” She added that it “plays well” with the rest of her palette colors.

From Cindy Baron's landscape painting demo
From Cindy Baron’s landscape painting demo

“The level of skill, and the manner in which it was presented by the artists just reached inside me and pulled out inspiration, and built confidence in very unexpected ways. I did not just learn technical skills, but met hearts, minds, and souls. If that weren’t enough, the community built through chat and Zoom took the whole experience to a level nearing out of this world. Then we add the generosity of sponsors and Eric and his team, and now we are out of this world! My heart is full, my head is full, and my inspiration is on full steam. I know life is different because of this experience, and I can’t wait to find out just what that means! A thousand times thank you for Realism Live!” – Jodi Epp

Thank you to today’s sponsors, Sennelier & Fabriano and Blick Art Materials, and to everyone who is joining us again this year or for the first time. Realism Live is taking place through Saturday, November 11, 2023, and replays are available so visit now to access all of these sessions and more!