Painting Several Characters Using One Model

In the 2 part video below, I show you how I used myself as a model for an illustration involving 4 adults.

This can be very useful for illustrators on a tight budget and deadline, or for anyone who is having difficulty arranging other people to pose.

An important note: If you do not have experience painting people, specifically portraits, this might be challenging.  As always, I urge you to get as much experience as you can painting a wide variety of people.

Video 1 – Beginning the Multi-Character Illustration

Part 1 explains the element of drawing, which is the foundation of the painting.  This is where I begin to build the structure of the faces in a way that will look different than my own face.

Using charcoal directly on a canvas can be very enjoyable because it wipes off so easily.  In order to avoid getting frustrated, think of this stage as pushing lines around until they begin to resemble what you want to see.

The first thing to consider in working this way is to make sure that the lighting for each photograph is consistent.  Once you have your photographs ready, the drawing at first should be very simple, even crude.  Think of these drawings as chiseling a chunk of wood with a chainsaw.  DO NOT draw perfect curves yet.  Keep it basic.  This will keep you working smarter and not harder.

When the drawing structure is complete, I allow a little more detail.  I still leave it fairly simple, knowing that the details will happen in the paint.  Again, if you don’t much experience with drawing or painting, this can be a challenge, but watch it anyway and who knows, maybe it will come much easier for you.

Part 2 – Painting Each Of The Faces

In the second video, I start with a quick color wash.  If you’re unfamiliar with this technique, it helps with building up the richness of the final painting.  As you get painting, it’s easy for some of the white of the canvas to show through, which I don’t want in an illustration.  It serves more purposes as well, but I’ll get into those reasons later on.

Something that I forgot to mention in the video is that after I felt complete with the charcoal drawing, I sprayed “Workable Fixativ” on the canvas.  This holds the charcoal in place and doesn’t allow it to blend in with the paint.  You could alternatively trace the drawing with turpentine-thinned oil paint, wait for that to dry (about 10 minutes) and then wipe the entire canvas off with a paper towel.  This is what I do for most of my paintings, if I draw first with charcoal, but with illustrations, I prefer to keep the charcoal drawing because it works better for my own work flow.

The color wash is simple.  You can even simplify it further by keeping it all monochromatic (one color) or you can take your time and essentially paint the entire painting with oil paint thinned to a watery consistency with turpentine.  If you are also working quickly as I am, I suggest a simplified color wash with general colors.

As I begin to paint the faces, my aim is to stay consistent with the lighting and look for ways to change the faces enough that they don’t look like that of the model.  It can be easy to suddenly make something look fake or caricaturized.  If this happens, just be patient and keep pushing that paint around until it looks right.

If you’re very new to this, and you don’t have a deadline, then I suggest spending more time on the drawing.  You can even go further to then paint in monochromatic or just black & white.  When the paint is dry, add color in thin washes.  This is called glazing.  If you’d like to see an example of this technique, post a comment below or send me a message.


I hope this video offers some good tips and inspiration for your next painting project.  If you want to see more videos like this, click this link here to subscribe to my Youtube channel where I post occasional videos from the studio.

-Matt AbraxasMatt Abraxas Fine Art and Illustration Studio