How to Paint Realistic Hair in Oil

painting portrait painting

Painting hair is a big challenge, and you're going to learn the 3 Secrets of Painting Hair in Oil, PLUS how to use brush marks to mimic the look of hair. (Instead of making a lot of individual strokes with tiny round brushes.)

Materials Used In This Demo:

Ampersand Artist Panel with Canvas Texture: 
Royal Langnickel SableTek Flat Brush: 
Phthalo Turquoise: 
Ultramarine Blue: 
Cadmium Red: 
Cadmium Orange: 
Cadmium Yellow: 
Titanium White: 
Gray Matters Palette Paper: 
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Secret to Painting Hair #1: Keep Everything Dark to Begin

This is a rule you should follow with oil painting in general, but especially so with painting hair because we want to be able to put highlights over the top. If you start with paint that's too light, the highlights won't show up and it'll be very difficult to create the texture of hair! Start with everything being darker than you want it to be at the end.

Do you need help learning how to mix accurate colors? Learn a reliable system in your FREE Learn to Mix Any Color Workshop: (Link coming soon!)

Secret to Painting Hair #2: Don't put Texture Everywhere! Save it for the Highlights

Think about how the eye works for a second:

  1. Light hits an object.
  2. Light bounces off the object and carries information about it through the air.
  3. Light enters the eye, and the eye and brain interprets it to understand the object in the light.

Therefore, if there's less light (as there is in the shadows) then there's less information coming into our eye.

This is why you should not paint hair texture in the shadows! If you do, your hair might look like spaghetti. Instead, keep those shadows unified and with minimal information. Then, use texture in the highlights to let the viewer know there are lots of individual strands. That's all you need!

Secret to Painting Hair #3: Make the Edges in Shadows & Near the Hairline Soft

Does the hair your painting look like a wig? It could be that your edges are too sharp!

Think about it: The hair from a wig ends suddenly, but hair growing out of the head naturally starts more gradually. For a space, we can see the scalp showing through the hairs, and we need to express this with the paint.

But there's no need to paint a bunch of individual tiny strands of hair coming out of the forehead or nape. Instead, use a soft, blended edge and use a color that's between the hair and the skin tone.

How to Use the Brush to Create Hair Texture

For this one, I recommend you watch the video! It's difficult to explain in words, but it's quite important to have a brush with long hairs that separate a bit when loaded with oil paint. 

I like Royal Langnickel SableTek Flat Brushes ( ) because they're affordable and have really long hairs, but you might also try a long fan brush or a comber or grainer brush.

Learn How to Paint Portraits in Oil

If you want to create realistic oil paintings that capture a likeness and look more real than a photograph, check out the Portrait Painting in Oil Video Course! Multiple painting techniques are covered and you get in-depth info on mixing any skin tone. Find out more here: 

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