Creating a successful portrait is the result of a complicated balancing act that I continue to study and practice. Depending on the day, or sometimes even a moment in time, I'll find myself terribly frustrated or thrilled by success.
There are so many elements to control (all the while painting with a stroke that doesn't look belabored!) It's really interesting that it takes an enormous amount of self control to be loose. So many aspects to keep in mind, including: turning the form with color and temperature. Retaining softness. Making the painting interesting through mood and lighting. Making sure your model strikes a pose that will ultimately be satisfying.
What helps? Honestly, when working on a painting, just give yourself to the moment, especially in class, when it's all about the learning anyway. Get rid of self sabotaging thoughts: this is going to be brilliant and I'm going to enter it in a show a win a big RIBBON and Oprah is going to interview me about my miraculous journey as a late starting artist. Placing all that pressure on yourself will lead to a bad painting. Just focus on the current stroke.
A few more tips:
1. Don't rush. Take your time. Get your landmarks down correctly.
2. After mixing a puddle of color you're trying to match, put some on a pallet knife and hold it up to the area on the model's face or body to see if you're close.
3. Every 15 minutes step back!
4. Look in a mirror at your work and the model.
5. Work with as many instructors as you can, they each bring something different to the table.
6. Watch as many artists (whose work you admire) paint. Watch how they mix their paint. How they load their brush. You will learn more through observation than you can believe.
7. After you've been studying a while, pick up books on oil painting from the library and actually read them. They actually will make sense to you after you've been slapping paint around for a while.
8. Value, value, value.