Putting on a Brave Face

Acrylic Painting Jessie Dunlop Putting on Brave Face

New Work in Acrylic Paint – Putting on a Brave Face. Painted on a wooden 12×12″ birch canvas.

Submission for the 7th Annual Psychiatric Art Show: Beyond words, How does your garden grow?

The guide lines asked for artists to paint art works relating to their emotions.

Artist Statement: “People with autism are taught that a smile means some one is happy. In real life it is not always that simple. A smile can hide a whole spectrum of emotions, that are being experienced below the surface of that familiar fake grin. For people with emotional issues, there is often pressure to smile and act “normal”, even if it feels that the world is crashing around your feet.

This is a portrait of a woman who is wearing her fake smile as a mask; baring her teeth in an effort to disguise the emotions that are really being felt. Though she tries to suppress her panic, it is peaking through.”


“Smile and the world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone” – Stanley Gordon West

The Making of “Putting on a Brave Face”

Here are the steps that were involved in the painting of “Brave Face”: an acrylic painting on a 12×12″ birch panel.

The painting “Brave Face” was created over a 7 hour period at Art House Penticton ( a shared studio where artists and crafters can go to work).


Skin – Burnt Umber and varying degrees of white.

Lips – just Burnt Umber and White.

Teeth and Eye balls – again Burnt Umber and White  (just a lot more white).

Eyelashes and pupils of the eye: Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue to create a dark blackish shade.

Background: This was created by mixing Ultramarine Blue with White and Hookers Green.

Baked Birch Panel (No Primer)


1. Find source material, using Google Image Search. Then spend 10 minutes or so sketching it on paper, to get a better understanding of the shapes. Source image for this artwork was a photo by Henrik Sorenson.

2. Begin sketching on panel/canvas. Once finished take a step back, and look at the image through the screen of your phone. Compare it with the source material, try and spot any inaccuracies and fix them early.

3. Using a thin brush and Burnt Umber acrylic, start painting the outline, going directly over the pencil.

4. Create the under-layer to guide you : Dilute the Burnt Umber paint to create a wash. Paint in the darkest areas, then continue adding water, to lighten the paint. Keep going until the whole subject has been painted in roughly corresponding shades. Again, take a step back, look at the image through your phone, or in a mirror (anything that changes your perception of it). This will make it easier to spot any adjustments that are needed.

5. Paint the background. I like this part, it makes the image pop.

6. Begin painting over the wash, using the under-layer colours to guide you. Paint should be thick enough to cover the under-layers. Try to follow the photo as best you can. Remember to step back often and review your work.

JDunlop 2014 (3) Image sketched in Pencil onto the Birch Panel.

JDunlop 2014 (4) Outlined in Burnt Umber acrylic paint with a fine brush.Penticton-20140806-00011 Washes painted onto the face. It was easiest to do the darkest areas first.

JDunlop 2014 (7) Painting the background (my favorite part).

JDunlop 2014 (10)      Painting in the rest of the flesh tones, with much thicker paint.

Penticton-20140806-00019 Adding the details, and emphasizing the highlights and shadow.

 Acrylic Painting Jessie Dunlop Putting on Brave Face Finished!



This step by step technique was adopted after watching a Youtube video on the subject on portrait painting. It was very helpful. If you are considering using this technique please check it out, you will be glad that you did!

YouTube Video: How to Paint Skin Tones in Acrylic Portrait (Parts 1 to 3) by Eric T. Francis

…And also watch this one, just because of its awesomeness:  Painting the Portrait with David Grey