How to paint a portrait
It’s not as hard as you think

For generations, the only way to capture what someone looked like was to paint them. People would sit still for hours, sometimes even for days on end, so that an artist could truly capture their likeness in a portrait.

We don’t have that problem anymore. With a smartphone in nearly every pocket, snapping a picture of someone is as easy as can be. Some might say there isn’t a need for painted portraits anymore. And those people may, technically, be correct — but that doesn’t make a painted portrait any less special.

The great news is that we are past the days when you need to hire a professional portrait painter (which is costly) and sit, motionless, for hours. Painting a portrait at home is not as hard as you think it is, and with countless photos on our phones of the people we love, we can easily pick one of those to work off of. Not to mention, painting is a fun activity, and a great way to spend some time.

If you have never painted a portrait before, here are some basics to keep in mind as you turn a picture of your favorite person into a painted portrait.

To start, select a great picture of someone to work off of. Here is the one we chose.

Trace before you paint, and ignore the fine details in the beginning. If you need some help with the tracing process, just use the cupixel app to project your outline onto your painting surface and follow along.

Whether you are tracing freehand or with the app, start with your basic outline, then focus on the smaller features and more detailed areas as you go on.

Once you have your outline (which we recommend going over in marker after initially using pencil) it is time to add color. Keep in mind that mixing colors is a process. It is always easier to make something darker than lighter, so start lighter and go darker when you need to.

Take your time mixing skin tones. It helps to start with a base color and then mix and add more layers for highlights. 

Remember to not just add the highlights — take the time to blend those colors with the ones beneath them.

The eyes are often the most important feature to make sure your portrait looks realistic — just be patient with your tracing and painting and they will turn out great.

Don’t be afraid to have fun here, also. We loved the eye makeup in the initial photo, so made sure to include that pop of color in the painting here.

Finally, don’t let fine details restrict you! You don’t need to be exact, especially when it comes to things like hair or clothing. It is ok to let your portrait mostly focus on the facial features! As you can see in the nearly finished image here, we left out the details of the hair and the background, but the portrait doesn’t feel like it is missing anything.

And there you have it — some basics on painting a portrait at home. But you don’t need to do it all on your own. Take the pressure off of the tracing process, and follow along with our artists as they walk you through painting a portrait from start to finish.

Paint a portrait

Join our in-house artist in choosing your photo, tracing your outline, and bringing your portrait to life with paint!

From finding the correct undertones to adding highlights and contours, you’ll learn everything you need to paint a portrait that looks like the real deal.

Experience type: Smart trace-powered painting

Time: 1 hour 20 minutes


  • Square surface for painting (canvas works great, but printer paper will do the trick, also!)
  • Pencil
  • Paint (acrylic if you have them!)
  • Paint brushes
  • Cup of water

You can find all our portrait experiences in our “Personal Photos” category in the app, or click below to go directly to this experience!