Portrait oil painting – improvers with Jane French

Ref: S3D13332

About this course

Improve your skills in painting portraits using oils. Strengthen your ability to draw the head and shoulders from life; to develop your capacity to portray tonal values; and introduce the use of more vibrant colours and expressive brushmarks.

Course Description

The main aim of this course is to develop your understanding of painting a portrait using the medium of oils. During the course, you will complete a number of studies, plus a couple of finished pieces, which will demonstrate your increased confidence in using oil paint. You will improve your ability to draw (and paint) from a live model and you will take part in exercises that boost your skills in matching tonal values, creating three-dimensional proportions and pushing the range of saturated colours/hues.

The course will begin with a presentation from your tutor and a review of materials and equipment.

You will be working from a live portrait model during the course: one for the first full day and a different model for the second full day. On the final day, you will work from a photographic reference. You will be given drawing exercises, colour/value mixing exercises and tutor demonstrations. The course will be broken down into various sessions suitable for those who would like to improve their ability to paint portraits using oils. You will be provided with group tuition and critiques, as well as individual one-to-one support throughout.

At the end of the course, there will be a review and a display of the work you produce.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course, the College will supply some of the materials to get you started, including:
  • Some disposable palettes, Zest-it (odourless solvent), oil painting paper and 2 x canvas boards 300mm x 300mm and 1 x 300 x 400mm.
  • Acrylic paint (for applying to surface as a ground)
  • The model/s who will sit for the course

What students need to bring

  • Please bring oil paint: Titanium White, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow, Cerulean Blue, Permanent Rose.
  • Zest-it or other low odour solvent, tear off painting palette pad
  • Your tutor recommends the following brushes from Rosemary and Co. Evergreen or Ivory – short flat
  • synthetic brush, long handle, size 4 and size 0
  • Additional brushes, according to your preference – i.e. a selection of short, flat brushes or pointed, round brushes (must be suitable for painting in oils – can be synthetic or hog’s hair)
  • Large brush for preparing painting surface
  • Jam jar with a lid
  • Apron or painting shirt/ old clothes that you don’t mind getting oil paint on as it can stain
  • A box or container large enough to take home two or three wet paintings 300x400mm
  • A couple of photographic portrait references to refer to on the final day. These need to be in hi-res colour and in focus. The tutor will bring a selection too.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • A good selection of oil paints, brushes, Zest-it, disposable tear off palette pads and other general art materials

Additional information

Only low odour or odourless solvent can be used in the workshop, such as Zest-it. Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no sandals or open toes).


Jane French - Tutor at West Dean College

Jane French

Jane has been working as a professional artist – specialising in portraiture - for around 15 years. She completed a BA degree in Fine Art at Newcastle University and an MA in Design at DMU, Leicester.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

Courses of interest

Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.