Different Types of Portrait Painting Based on Style & Composition

Different Types of Portrait Painting Based on Style & Composition

There are many types of portrait painting, depending on their style and composition. If you plan to order a charcoal or watercolor portrait painting, it is best to know the portrait styles to ensure you get quality portrait art from your artist or painter. Also, it will be easier for you to determine the type of portrait painting that fits your preferences. 

Knowing the types of portrait painting are also useful for artists and painters. Here is everything you need to know about portrait sketching and portrait drawing!

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What is a Portrait?

Portrait painting, watercolor or charcoal, shows the image and story of a person or animal or group. The subject of portraits of people is called “sitter”. This is because, traditionally, the subject will have to sit in front of the artist while making the portrait sketch or portrait drawing. However, these days, artists can make good portrait art using a picture, but the “sitter” term remains.

A good portrait art should be able to tell the subject's story and capture the viewers' attention.

Classifications of Portrait Paintings

Portrait paintings are classified into three categories:

  • Length of the portrait art. The length is the oldest and most traditional way to classify a portrait painting.
  • Pose of the sitter. Poses used by the sitter vary and can be used to categorize portrait art.
  • Number of people or sitters in the portrait art. Some artists will classify a portrait painting depending on the number of sitter/s or subject/s included. 

Paintings Based on Portrait Style

Each artist has their own style of making a portrait painting. Every brush stroke, color scheme, technique, and method of creating portrait art will differ from artist to artist. The medium used by the artist can tell the story of the sitter and their intention. 

You will be able to see the unique style and personality of the artist when you take a closer look at their art and portrait paintings. Here are three portrait styles of painting most commonly used by artists creating portraits.

Note: There are other portrait styles aside from these three.


As the name suggests, realistic portrait paintings are close to the original. It is also the most commonly used portrait style by beginners, aspiring artists, or artists searching for their unique portrait painting style. This is because it is easier for artists to draw what is in front of them than to imagine and draw something from their minds. 

Realistic portrait painting should have a clear image of the sitter or subject. The medium can be charcoal, watercolor, oil paint, pastel, encaustic, acrylic paint, or whatever the artist prefers.


Expressionists will prioritize the emotions or feelings of the sitter or subject over the real images. They will not imitate or replicate the sitter. Instead, they will prioritize what they feel from the sitter and their story. Some expressionists will distort or caricature the sitter, dramatize the colors, or exaggerate the real images.


Abstract portrait painting shouldn’t be realistic and avoid representation or objectivity. There is no exact method, technique, medium, or discipline behind abstract portrait art.

To consider a portrait painting as abstract, it should be abstract, incorporate the figure of the sitter or subject, and utilize the content of portraiture. 

Types of Portraits Based on Composition

After the styles, it is now time to differentiate the types of portrait painting depending on the composition. 


There are five types of portrait painting based on the length of the artwork:

  • Full-Length: It captures the whole body of the sitter, from head to toe. 
  • Half-Length: The artist draws the upper half of the body from the waist up.
  • Three-Quarter-Length: The sitter is drawn from the knee up.
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  • Bust View: This includes the neck and face.
  • Kit Cat: It is less than half-length with the hands of the subject.
  • Pose

    Here are four types of portrait painting depending on the subject's pose:

  • Profile: As the name suggests, the artist captures the subject from an angle.
  • Full Face: The artist captures the full frontal face of the subject.
  • Three Quarters: The sitter’s head should be slightly turned, looking at the distance, not directly at the artist.
  • Tronie: This portrait painting technique captures the expressions of the subject.
  • Number of Characters

    There are four types of portrait painting depending on the number of subjects in the portrait art:

  • Individual: As the name suggests, the portrait's subject is a single person.
  • Double: Two individuals are the subject of the portrait painting.
  • Group: The main subject is a group of people and doesn’t add any distractions.
  • Self-Portrait: The artists will draw or paint themselves. Self-portraits can be used as memoirs of the painter. Popular examples are Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci.
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