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5 Tips for Painting Better Portraits from Professor Edgar Jerins

Edgar Jerins is a professional artist and an Adjust Professor of Drawing at the New York Academy of Art. He currently instructs classes at Pelham Art Center, which include Drawing & Pastels, Oil Painting for Beginners, Drawing Fundamentals,  and special workshops and intensives that help beginner and intermediate students hone their skills in drawing and painting.  In his upcoming Painting a Portrait one-day intensive, Edgar will workshop the principles and practices of oil portraiture. To set his students up for success, Edgar emphasizes five key elements of a beautiful portrait:

1. Post & Expression

“The pose and expression of your model are critical. You don’t want a big teethy smile, or any harsh expression, just a calm and natural face. Your subject’s face should look as though they are thinking of something pleasant and relaxing.”

2. Single Source Lighting

“Single source lighting is used in all the Old Masters, and for a reason. A single light source will cast shadows on the features in a way that creates a sense of volume in your portraits; more than one light source can just turn your forms into chaos. The single-light and the natural expression is what will give a portrait that timeless look.”

3. Learn from the Masters

“Looking to the past is an important aspect of portraiture, especially if you are first starting out. The work of the old masters has stood the test of time because these artists solved the problems and mastered the craft. I think of Rembrandt–he creates emotionally powerful portraits that have lasted all through history.”

4. Correct Proportions

“The most important aspect to a portrait is getting proportions correct. Placing the features correctly onto the oval shape of the head is the key to getting the likeness of your subject. There are general rules to follow with the proportions of facial features which we always cover at the start of class. With oil you can continue to adjust slightly as you go, but starting with precise proportion will be key to a good portrait.”

5. Work from Life When Possible

“With portraits,working from life makes a world of difference. You’ll be able to capture forms and color more accurately being in the same room as your subject. If you have to work from a photograph, go for a reference that almost feels like a painting–that relaxed, nature pose.”


Edgar Jerins will teach “Painting a Portrait” August 6th, 1:30-6:00pm at Pelham Art Center. The one-day intensive will begin with a demonstration of the proportions of the face, then students will paint from a live model with an acrylic layer of Grisaille, which is a technique by which an image is executed entirely in shades of gray. After this dries, we will apply color with oil paint to make details sing and flesh tones come to life. To participate in the workshop, register online or call Pelham Art Center at (914) 738-2525 before August 1st. 


More about Edgar Jerins

Edgar Jerins was awarded a full scholarship by Scholastic Art Awards to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and was also the recipiant of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant, The Pollock-Krasner Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts, Fellowship in Printmaking/Drawing/Artists Books, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Grant, George Sugarman Foundation Grant, and E.D. Foundation Grant. He has had solo exhibitions at the Latvian Foreign Art Museum, Riga, Latvia, Museum of Nebraska Art, Payne Gallery at Moravian Collage, and two New York City exhibitions at Tatistsheff Gallery. His drawings have been exhibited in catalogue-supported shows across the US. Reviews include The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and American Arts Quarterly.



1. Pricilla Payne Hurd   oil on linen   46 x 48    2005
2. Andrew Grinvalds     oil on paper   22 x 30     2013
3. Maggie McGuane     oil on linen    37 x 42      1991